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Fries With A Side of Surveillance: Drive-Thrus Might Start Tracking Your License Plates

Drive-Thru License Plate Tracking

Photo: Michelle Henderson

“Hi there, welcome back to McDonald’s! May I take your order?” 

“Yes, I’d like a Big Mac and a medium coke, no ice, please.” 

“Coming right up! I see that you’re a big fan of our fries; would you like some fries and make it a combo? 

“You know what; I think I will have some fries. Thank you.” 

“Great! That will be $6.50, along with your license plate number, please.” 

That’s not the exact scenario you can expect when you arrive at a fast-food drive-thru in the near future, but it’s not that far off.

According to a report by the Financial Times, license plate tracking at fast-food drive-thrus is close to becoming a reality.

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What Will This Look Like?

5Thru, a license plate recognition start-up based in the state of Georgia, has confirmed that several fast-food chains in the U.S. and Canada have looked into implementing their technology. They expect a major contract to be signed by the end of the year.

The company’s website claims that the company’s technology “uses the security cameras of the drive-thru to identify customers before they get to the order panel, allowing for personalized experiences, individualized up-sells, and automated payment.”

McDonald’s has already bought a machine-learning start-up this year that would provide order recommendations, among other things. In China, KFC partnered with Baidu, a search engine, to develop facial recognition technology to suggest orders based on age and mood. Starbucks in Korea already use a license plate tracking system.

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Data Makes The World Go Round

One could argue that, in 2019, data is the most valuable currency in the world. “Money makes the world go round”, was the saying from days past, but data is often what leads to money in our current, brave new world.

You wake up in the morning and scroll through your Instagram feed. After double-tapping a friend’s #Sponsored post of their new Gillette razor, you open Chrome and enter “Gillette razor.” Result #1 takes you to Amazon, and you buy it. And just like that, Facebook (which owns IG), Google, and Amazon, have gathered data on you.

We’re resigned to the fact that having our data gathered is just a part of being alive in 2019. Yet we also value privacy. AI recognition technology is perhaps the most intrusive kind of dystopian technology, partially because we have no option to opt-out.

The scenario from the beginning of this article isn’t exactly what will happen, but only because there’s a good chance that nobody is going to politely ask you for your license plate number; they’ll just go ahead and start tracking it. Chew on that for a moment.


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