A New Ad Campaign Uses The DNA Of Litterbugs To Publicly Shame Them

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Think twice before you decide to throw your old piece of gum on the ground. Folks in Hong Kong are seeing some pretty interesting consequences for littering because of a new ad campaign.

The "Face of Litter" Campaign uses the DNA lifted from discarded wrappers and other trash to create digital mugshots of the perps, which are then plastered all across the city.

It’s spearheaded by marketing agency Ogilvy in conjunction with Parabon Nanolabs, a Virginia-based biotechnology which has applied this sort of DNA research in the past for criminal investigations.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HwL5HkEAo8k&w=560&h=315]

According to Wired,

"The DNA found on the Hong Kong trash is taken to a genotyping lab, where a massive data set on the litterbug is produced. This data, when processed with Parabon’s machine-learning algorithms, begins to form a rough snapshot of certain phenotypes, or traits. Parabon focuses on what it describes as highly heritable traits—or traits that have the least amount of environmental variability involved. Things like eye color, hair color, skin color, freckling, and face shape are far easier to determine than height, age, and even hair morphology (straight, wavy, or curly).

The Ogilvy team says it accounted for age by studying market research on the types of litter it processed. For example, people ages 18-34 are more likely to chew gum, so any gum samples were automatically given an average age in that range. Whereas the portraits of cigarette litterers, more common among the 45-plus group, were depicted as slightly older."

Ogilvy says it received permission from every person whose trash they picked up, so in that way, it’s not a true case of unsolicited public shaming. Parabon says its services are only available for criminal investigations but knowing its capabilities and potential use is a little unnerving.


Food For Thought

A project like The Face of Litter should serve as lesson to talk critically about privacy issues, consent and ethics surrounding the use and sanctions of someone's DNA.

What do you think? Leave us a comment below explaining your thoughts or concerns.