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Aussies will soon be walking barcodes, how can your business prepare?

This is especially prescient considering the need for so many to give away their personal information in order to gain the security of tracking and tracing in the COVID era – just to go out for dinner.

For some time now, Australians have been willing to exchange their online privacy in return for more tailored services, convenience and other consumer benefits.

Australia now has its own COVID-19 app. Although not designed to collect information but act as a ‘proximity detector’, downloading the app could ultimately be viewed by Australians as a fair transaction if the benefits are obvious and relatively immediate.

We’ve recently witnessed how technology built on tracing physical behaviour is having real-world success in the fight against COVID-19. Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan are using apps to track infected citizens, monitoring their travel and who they have contact with.

However, in considering the relative merits of downloading an app or not, it’s also interesting to think about other ways we are interacting with the digital ecosystem.


Now our physical behaviour – not just our online behaviour – is generating the same trackable data and connecting us to a vast digital ecosystem. As our individual physical features such as our irises, earlobes and even our heartbeat become increasingly machine readable, people will soon become walking barcodes – encrypted with information that can easily be scanned, analysed and stored.

As revealed in Accenture’s 2020 Fjords Trend report, this creates opportunities to deliver real-time solutions which enhance and simplify everyday life – but with caution.

As we move into the next decade, we’re likely to experience fundamental changes to the way we live and work in the ‘never normal’, including how we track things and are ourselves tracked.

The Internet of Bodies

The Internet of Things redefined our digital experiences and the ways we interact with the world around us. Now, the Internet of Bodies – our physical attributes, are being recognised as a form of signature as we move through physical spaces.

Already, facial and body language recognition enable seamless user interactions allowing us to unlock our smartphones and even pay for things. In China, Alibaba has introduced ‘Smile to Pay’ technology whereby customers can simply flash a smile and can pay for purchases at selected locations.

By developing technologies that seamlessly integrate into our lives and bring greater convenience, organisations can foster closer relationships with consumers and uncover opportunities for competitive advantage through differentiation of the customer experience.

Unlocking new possibilities

With technology such as 5G being implemented, there’s abundant potential for Australian organisations to design products and services which address challenges such as physical world data collection and content personalisation.

Targeted advertising is one area organisations are achieving this. Start-up Junction AI created a platform that uses machine learning so marketers can predict the probability a digital advertisement will convert a target audience, while US company Cooler Screens creates smart digital displays using face-detection technology on drink refrigerator doors to feedback information to retailers.

In the coming decade organisations will continue to test the waters to see how closely they can integrate into consumers’ lives with innovative touchpoints.

Balancing progression with privacy

However, navigating the push and pull between privacy and progression will become more challenging as the lines between the physical and digital continue to blur.

We’re already seeing these consequences play out. In 2019, San Francisco became the first US city to ban the use of facial recognition. Last year the Australian government tried to enact a facial recognition bill to allow governments, telcos and banks to use facial recognition to store and share images of people across the country.

Both public and private organistions must advocate for data minimalism and educate their customers about data consent and privacy. Without these areas being addressed consumers will remain reluctant to sign with their bodies.

For many organisations, capitalising on this blend of digital and physical will not be easy. A future powered by intelligent, automated systems that access our data to learn about our behaviours has arrived but getting consumers over the line to see the benefits such a world can bring, will remain a challenge.

Trust, transparency and the protection of privacy will be more critical than ever – even in the face of a global pandemic.

By Bronwyn van der Merwe, General Manager – Asia Pacific at Fjord

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