See that highway billboard? Even if you ignore it, that billboard may be watching you, via secret cameras that track you and sell the information to advertisers. These new high-tech spying billboards use tracking technology called “RADAR”.
On-board cameras already watch those around us to warn about a driver approaching our blind spot or slowing down ahead of us, or whether we are drifting out of our lane
GPS helps us drive more safely and efficiently by watching the road ahead for traffic delays and recommending alternate routes. GPS also helps us navigate to our destination.
Toll-booth cameras record our license plate numbers to charge our electronic pay pass.
There’s other automotive tracking technology that offers benefits we are learning to love, including:.
Ford’s My Key system can warn a parent when a young driver is driving faster or further than parental settings.
GM’s OnStar, and similar systems with different names from different nameplates, watch our braking, steering and airbags to alert Emergency Responders in the event of an accident.
But those are all systems and benefits we sign up for, even pay for. The spying “RADAR” billboards are doing it secretly.
Clear Channel Outdoor Americas, the giant billboard company, which operates more than 600,000 billboards nationwide, is testing the high-tech billboards is major markets including New York and Los Angeles, with plans to expand the program to additional markets.
The new billboard camera system reportedly taps into your mobile phone signals to analyze how well a particular billboard ad does its job, by tracking whether you buy the product, look it up online or even text or email about it with your friends.
That’s pretty scary, since it means Clear Channel can access a great deal of personal information on your mobile phone, including perhaps banking and credit card information.
At least two US Senators – Charles Schumer of New York and Al Franken of Minnesota – have demanded that Clear Channel respond to privacy concerns about what are being termed “spying billboards”.
Sen. Franken’s concern includes that our location information and other sensitive data is being collected without our knowledge or consent.
Sen. Schemer wants the Federal Trade Commission to issue strict policies on using such information, saying. “Without clear policies that provide consumers full disclosure of the data that is collected, and an opportunity to opt-out when necessary, consumers lose the opportunity to make an informed choice about their privacy,”.
Unlike cameras already widely in use, such as those at roadway tolls, Clear Channel says these spying billboards track traffic patterns anonymously and track only what passing vehicles do next in regards to that billboard ad.
On its own website, Clear Channel says it uses “anonymous, aggregated mobile data, from privacy-compliant third-party data providers, to understand where your customer segments go and the best OOH locations to reach them.” But once it has that information from your mobile phone provider, just how does Clear Channel slide and dice it?
So just how did Clear Channel identify – in a recent test in Orlando – that nearly half those who saw a particular billboard ad for a particular brand of shoes were analyzed as more likely to buy shoes.
Just how does Clear Channel know that I buy shoes after passing a billboard for shoes without tracking the specific actions I take on my phone connected to my vehicle’s onboard navigation/entertainment system? And just how does Clear Channel know that you didn’t?
Or, even more discomforting, are they still tracking me after I remove my phone from the vehicle and take it home, to the office, or to a parent-teacher conference.
Since the tracking device is embedded somewhere on a giant billboard we drive past at speeds of 65mph, more or less, there’s no way to know which billboards are watching us.
Automakers would have to add that warning to their connectivity systems, or we would have to turn off our connected mobile devices, neither of which is likely.
It’s nothing new for advertisers to track the popularity and effectiveness of their ads, as all the annual hoopla about the popularity and effectiveness of their SuperBowl ads attests.
Many of those ads, and boasts about their popularity, are by automakers. That includes their ads watched on YouTube long after they are no longer on TV, such as that delightful VW commercial with the boy dressed as Darth Vader, who magically starts the car remotely.
Some of the most popular billboards in Times Square are the interactive ones, with cameras pointed at passersby, who pose and wave and take photos whenever their posing and waving is flashed on the screen.
But that is publicly known or publicly displayed. These new Clear Channel “smart” billboards are tracking us without our knowledge.
I can delete the “cookies” on my computer installed by websites I visit to track which other websites I visit, and I do that regularly, to protect my privacy.
But how do you delete Clear Channel from your vehicle’s connectivity system to prevent it from tracking what billboards you have passed and what you might do after noticing a particular ad?
These “smart” billboards with secret tracking are not limited to highways. Billboards are everywhere and anywhere, and in all sizes, from the jumbotrons in Times Square to those across the street from your supermarket or your child’s school.
Here’s looking at you, kid. When Humphrey Bogart uttered that immortal line to Ingrid Berman in Casablanca, one of the greatest films of all time, nobody could have imagined it would apply one day to highway billboards.
If he were saying it today, Bogey would change the line to, “Here’s looking at you, everybody.”
What do you think about billboards that watch us? Add a comment below.