DANGER: BRS Labs Goes Pre-Crime

Published Oct 03, 2012 04:00 AM
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Big Brother - A selling point, human rights violation or both? Controversial video analytic supplier BRS Labs is pushing forward with its most aggressive marketing ever, embracing the 'Pre-Crime' mantle of science fiction movies.

Here's the vision of Pre-Crime in the Minority Report movie:

10 year old movie spoiler alert: "The PreCrime program is shut down and the prisoners are unconditionally pardoned and released." Leaving that aside, I suppose...

BRS Labs gained extensive media coverage for their RNC Tampa deployment with numerous publications trumpeting and/or deriding it as a "Pre-Crime" technology (e.g., here, here and here). Now, BRS Labs itself is embracing it in new marketing including the following video [link no longer available]:

Powerful Marketing Tool

From a purely short term marketing perspective, a security company selling pre-crime is genius. It generates unprecedented mainstream interest and builds buzz that would cost millions.

The Holy Grail for Security Managers

Even more importantly, pre-crime is the single most valuable thing that any security manager could ever dream of. Here's how security measures rank:

  • Lowest / Worst - Solve a crime that has been committed. Downside - the damage is already done and typically cannot be fully (if at all) repaired.
  • Middle / Better - Stop a crime in progress. Much better but may not have enough time to actually stop.
  • Best - Pre-crime, detect a crime before it even occurs. Highest probability of avoiding any damage.

What security manager would not seriously consider a system that could identify crime before it occurred?

High Risk Tactic

The downside for the company is setting unrealistic expectations. While BRS traditionally marketed their technology as detecting abnormalities, the 'pre-crime' messaging is both more powerful and risky.

Lots of things are abnormal, especially to a 2012 video analytics program with limited overall intelligence, yet very few are actually criminal events. Any buyer who thinks they are getting 'pre-crime' is going to be sorely disappointed in a system that generates lots of notifications, few of which are crime. Like the video analytic systems oversold in the past decade, this could result in pilots failing to go to full roll-outs and referrals not being given.

Danger to the Industry

Worse, the UK human rights fiasco demonstrates the downsides of the general public believing the surveillance industry can deliver science fiction. 'Pre-crime' may be the worst possible type as it taps into deep fears of profiling, presumptions of guilt before innocence and Big Brother.

If it truly worked, perhaps the resulting surge in adoption would compensate, but it has far more potential to hurt the industry overall than help.

Good Move for BRS Overall

All this noted, we think this is a sharp move by BRS. Nearly 4 years after they burst onto the scene claiming to be imminently acquired for up to $1 Billion dollars, earlier this year a BRS Labs investor letter revealed the company remained in a cash shortflow, needed more funding and had modest revenue levels compared to their continuous projections for mega growth and success.

Given this position, BRS does not have much to lose but they have a ton to gain if they can compel buyers with pre-crime excitement. Hopefully the collateral damage to the industry will be minimal while BRS capitalizes on this marketing gold.

[UPDATE: This "Hail Mary" did not succeed. BRS Labs has significantly repositioned itself with heavy layoffs.