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‘Smart’ coolers at Walgreens are watching you

Are you ready to be judged in the ice cream aisle? A startup in Chicago has partnered with Walgreens to test technology that targets you with ads. The store’s freezer and refrigerator doors have been outfitted with technology that lets you see images of what’s inside the coolers, but they also display ads based on … well, based on your appearance.

The technology reportedly senses when a shopper approaches and measures their emotions in order to serve up advertisements. Its algorithms can scan your face to estimate your gender, age and mood.

We can’t help but wonder if this is wow-worthy or something to be concerned about. And that makes us wonder what targeted ads our concerned expressions might generate …

What is targeted advertising?

As a society, we have a love-hate relationship with targeted advertising, which uses data about you to serve up paid advertisements that the algorithms say may be relevant to you. Here’s an example of one I got while reading one of my favorite entertainment blogs:

Yep, something I’m doing online led the targeted advertising demons to determine that I need makeup tips for “old ladies.” We find targeted ads annoying until, that is, we see something that piques our interests. Like them or not, paid ads are what make all this information on the internet mostly free.

But back to the freezer aisle at Walgreens. Are consumers ready for targeted advertising while they’re shopping?

How do smart coolers work?

The startup, called Cooler Screens, has rolled out its technology in Walgreens in Chicago and New York City with plans to roll them out in more cities this year. FastCompany reports that products advertised on the doors grew more than 20 percent and traffic at the stores outfitted with this IoT technology saw increases in traffic.


Cooler Screens technology uses cameras, motion sensors and eye-tracking software to calculate “anonymous demographic metadata” and serve up targeted advertisements that may be relevant to you. It combines that information with time of day, the amount of time you linger in front of products, and what you already have in your hands or cart, and it delivers recommendations for other products.

For example, if it’s 4:30 p.m. and you’re carrying a six-pack of beer, FastCompany says, you might get an ad or a special offer for a pizza.

How to stop targeted ads

There won’t be much you’ll be able to do to stop targeted advertising while you’re out and about. Because the data is anonymized — meaning it’s not personally identifying you — retailers like Walgreens are likely hoping that its customers will be OK with it. Short of wearing a mask when you shop, or completely avoiding the refrigerator/freezer aisles, you won’t have much say over how stores use targeted ads.

You can, however, stop ads from following you online at home, at work and on your mobile device with a few simple tricks. You can stop them on Facebook, stop your mobile device from tracking you, and use ad blockers on your browser to stop annoying pop-ups. If you use an ad blocker, remember to white list, so we can continue to bring you this great content at no cost to you!

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