A Face in the Crowd: Say goodbye to anonymity

Even if your picture isn't on the Internet, computerized facial recognition makes it virtually impossible to keep your "faceprint" private

Joseph Atick was one of the first scientists to develop facial recognition software. Twenty years ago he was just about to give up on it when --

Joseph Atick: I opened up the door to my lab. And what I heard in a metallic voice: "I see Joseph."

Lesley Stahl: The computer said I see Joseph cause it took your picture.

Joseph Atick: It detected my presence in the room, it found my face and then it recognized that "this was Joseph." And so I started screaming and invited other people in the lab to come in and see, and the computer started alternating from "I see Joseph" to "I see Paul" to...

But Atick fears he helped create a monster and it's headed to the mall.

In "Minority Report," Tom Cruise is bombarded by ads recognizing him and telling him what to buy. That's still science fiction, but companies are racing to develop digital billboards for shopping malls that without your being aware of it scan your face to tell your gender and age. We found this promotional video by Intel online showing how this would work.

[Video: Is the viewer a teenage girl? Then change the content to highlight a back-to-school shoe promotion a few stores down. Is it a senior male? Then why not tell him about the golf club sale at the sporting goods store?]

And now mannequins! A few national chains are installing them with facial recognition as a way to covertly profile their customers. As for identifying us as individuals - well, several companies are working on it: like Hitachi of Japan, as seen in this online sales video:

[Video: The system can automatically detect a face from either surveillance footage or a regular camera and search for it.]

Joseph Atick: Big Brother is no longer big government; Big Brother is big business.

And big business is free to do this kind of surveillance; while government has all kinds of restrictions.

Lesley Stahl: So there are rules for law enforcement, government, military. But no rules for commerce?

Joseph Atick: Commerce. No rules for commercial companies.

There are in Europe, where laws require companies get your consent before they collect your faceprint, but not in the U.S. where regulation is lagging far behind the technology. Meanwhile, some of the biggest companies online are busily building banks of faceprints. If you've been tagged on Facebook, chances are they have your faceprint on file. Google and Apple also make faceprints.

Joseph Atick: My identity, my faceprint should be recognized as my property. My face is as important as my financial records, as my health records. It's very private to me.

Lesley Stahl: What do you mean, "our faces are private"? We're out in the street.

Joseph Atick: Absolutely.

Lesley Stahl: We're walking around. Closed-circuit cameras all over the place. Are they really private?

Joseph Atick: Our faces are private in the sense that my face does not walk around with a tag saying, "I'm Joseph Atick," in the street.

But marketers are working not just on linking our faces on the street to our names, but to our online profiles with our personal data and shopping history.

Lesley Stahl: We used to worry about privacy on the web, now we have to worry about privacy just walking around.

Joseph Atick: The link is between the online and offline persona is becoming possible and that's--