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• Cooler Screens are designed to provide targeted advertising and promotions based on shoppers’ behaviors and other factors. They are not scanning people for a specific “mark.”
• Cooler Screens maintains its system is incapable of collecting specific personal information like vaccine status.
• There is no evidence to suggest Cooler Screens’ technology is collecting data on who is vaccinated against COVID-19 or that it will ban people from shopping. It is designed to get people to buy.
At some Walgreens locations, shoppers are being monitored by the refrigerator doors as they browse the aisles.
The retail pharmacy chain has started using Cooler Screens technology at thousands of Walgreens stores across the U.S. The technology relies on cameras and sensors to determine some of a shopper’s general behaviors and characteristics, which are then used to provide targeted advertising, according to the Wall Street Journal and Fast Company.
If a shopper grabs a six-pack of beer near dinner time, the cooler doors might display a promotion on frozen pizzas, for example, Cooler Screens’ CEO Arsen Avakian told Fast Company.
"So I’m here at Walgreens," said one TikTok user, whose video was shared on Facebook. He turned the camera to show a line of refrigerators along one wall of the store. "They look like normal shelves, but they’re not normal shelves. Every single one of them has infrared scanning sensors for your forehead, right? The mark of the beast on your right hand or your forehead."
The person narrating the video continues, saying that the refrigerator doors are made out of "super thick metal."
"If you don’t have the mark later on, you won’t be able to buy," he said.
In the full-length version of the TikTok, which appears to have been removed from TikTok but is posted on Reddit, his claim continues. In the future, he said, the refrigerator doors will be locked unless shoppers scan their hands or foreheads.
"Without the mark of the beast, you won’t be able to use these in the future," he said. "These lock. Right now they’re not locked, but they do lock."
A few seconds later, he clarified: "This is all just the beginning — certificate of vaccine ID. COVID. You won’t be able to buy or sell unless you can prove that you’re fully vaccinated. They’re going to collapse the economies and then bring in digital currency."
The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
This TikTok user is not the first person to refer to COVID-19 vaccines — or proof of vaccinations — as "the mark of the beast," a religious term referenced in Revelation, the last book of the New Testament. Evangelical Christians have cited this text throughout history as a sign of the antichrist. (Both credit cards and social security numbers have been theorized to be the long-feared mark. In the 1970s, grocery store UPC bar codes became suspect.)
But while the question of whether COVID-19 vaccines are the "mark of the beast" may be open to religious interpretation, another question remains. Are the Cooler Screens at Walgreens meant to detect markings and prevent people who lack those markings from shopping? No.
Quite the opposite: Cooler Screens freezer and refrigerator doors are designed to provide targeted advertisements to shoppers — with the ultimate hope that they will buy.
It’s not clear how the speaker in the video arrived at this conclusion, but the belief also appears to be rooted in an interpretation of the biblical text. Revelation 13:16-17 reads: "It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name."
The whole point of a company advertising something is so that consumers will purchase.
The Cooler Screens doors are "equipped with a camera, motion sensors, and eye tracking," according to a 2019 Fast Company article. "The doors can discern your gender, your general age range, what products you’re looking at, how long you’re standing there, and even what your emotional response is to a particular product."
The Cooler Screens FAQ page addresses the cameras and sensors the doors rely on. Three "internally facing cameras" are used to track product inventory while "front-facing optical sensors" are used to "anonymously track consumer presence and interaction with the platform."
"These optical sensors never capture or store images or any other data that at any time cloud [sic] be linked back to an individual consumer," Cooler Screens wrote.
A more recent article from last year contradicted some of the claims the Fast Company story made about the Cooler Screens doors.
"Though the sensors don’t use facial-recognition technology and can’t tell gender or other identifiable data, they can give advertisers a sense of how their ads are actually leading to in-store purchases," according to a Marketing Brew piece.
Regardless, the screens on the doors will display advertisements and promotions that are believed to be relevant to particular shoppers based on the information gathered by the sensors.
According to Cooler Screens, the data it collects is anonymous, meaning it is not tied to a particular individual, as, say, Facebook and Instagram are.
"Cooler Screens never seeks to identify individuals and never gathers or uses personally identifiable or linkable information," the company wrote on its FAQ page. "Our technology does not support it. Our business model does not require it."
PolitiFact reached out to Cooler Screens, Walgreens and Microsoft — another one of Cooler Screens’ partners.
A spokesperson for Cooler Screens described its technology as "identity-blind and privacy-centric," and said the company had adopted the "Privacy by Design" framework, which ensures privacy safeguards are always a consideration.
"Our external facing sensor simply detects motion — nothing more," the spokesperson said, reiterating that Cooler Screens does not gather or use personally identifiable information.
A spokesperson for Microsoft said Cooler Screens does not use Microsoft AI to power its technology. Cooler Screens uses some Microsoft cloud services and data visualization tools.
Walgreens did not respond to our requests for comment.
A video shared on Facebook claims Walgreens refrigerators are scanning shoppers’ hands and foreheads looking for "the mark of the beast," which is supposedly sported by those who are vaccinated against COVID-19. The video also claims that "if you don’t have the mark later on, you won’t be able to buy."
The Cooler Screens in the video were designed to provide targeted advertising and promotions based on shoppers’ behaviors and other factors. The Cooler Screens at Walgreens do not collect identifiable information about shoppers. They are designed to help sell products to customers, not prevent customers from buying.
We rate this claim Pants on Fire!
UPDATE, Jan. 12, 2022: This story has been updated with a comment from Cooler Screens. The rating is unchanged.
Facebook post, Dec. 31, 2021
The Wall Street Journal, "Walgreens Tests Digital Cooler Doors With Cameras to Target You With Ads," Jan. 11, 2019
Microsoft, "Cooler Screens collaborates with Microsoft to deliver immersive digital experiences in retail," Oct. 28, 2020
Vox, "That freezer is watching you," Feb. 7, 2019
Fast Company, "It’s not just Google or Facebook: The freezer aisle is ad targeting you now," Feb. 6, 2019
The Washington Post, "On social media, vaccine misinformation mixes with extreme faith," Feb. 16, 2021
USA Today, "Some say COVID-19 vaccine is the 'mark of the beast.' Is there a connection to the Bible?" Sept. 27, 2021
The Hill, "Marjorie Taylor Greene blasts COVID-19 vaccine passports: ‘Biden's mark of the beast,’" March, 30, 2021
The Washington Post, "Breaking evangelical resistance to coronavirus vaccines will be hard," May 21, 2021
Wired, "Why the Bar Code Will Always Be the Mark of the Beast," Dec. 28, 2012
Bible Gateway, "Revelation 13," accessed Jan. 11, 2021
Forbes, "Social Security Number May Be Mark Of The Beast But That Will Not Save Your Job," July, 16, 2014
Cooler Screens, "Walgreens Reimagines the Consumer Experience by Bringing Digital Merchandising into its Stores," accessed Jan. 11, 2021
Cooler Screens, "Frequently Asked Questions," accessed Jan. 11, 2021
Morning Brew, "Are Cooler Screens the fridge of the future?" Oct. 25, 2021
Mashed, "TikTok Thinks This Is Why Walgreens Has Digital Cooler Doors," Sept. 14, 2021
Email exchange with Cooler Screens spokesperson Gayle deDie, Jan. 11-12, 2022
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