While facial recognition technology has been used to enhance security — for example, to spot known terrorists in crowds — it’s now poised to become the next big thing for personalized marketing and smart phones.

The new app SceneTap uses cameras with facial detection software to scout more than 50 bars in Chicago, posting information like the average age of a crowd and the ratio of men to women, all in an effort to help people decide where to spend their evenings.

Another company, the Manhattan-based Immersive Labs, uses its own software that gauges the age range, sex and attention level of a passer-by to deliver appropriate ads. The technology has the potential of showing a man an ad for razors and beauty products for women.

While such software doesn’t specifically identify anyone, the spread of facial-recognition technology is being decried by privacy advocates.

“It’s a future where anonymity can no longer be taken for granted — even when we are in a public space surrounded by strangers,” says Alessandro Acquisti, an associate professor of information technology and public policy at Carnegie Mellon.

Maneesha Mithal, the associate director of the division of privacy and identity protection for the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the Federal Trade Commission, which is planning a workshop next month on facial recognition, says, “You might think it’s cool, or you might think it’s creepy, depending on the context,” adding that consumers should be able to opt-out of such marketing practices.

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