The billboard is watching you: Clear Channel Outdoor Americas can see you

Clear Channel Outdoor Americas will announce on Monday that they have partnered with several companies, including AT&T, to track people’s travel patterns and behaviors through their mobile phones. They will be able to conclude who is looking at their billboard not with retina-scanning cameras, but by aggregating the data collected by several partners and location data from your telephone. This will allow ClearChannel to determine the average age, gender and perhaps spending habits of the traffic around their billboards, allowing them to place more targeted ads. Digital billboards in cities will become more like web banners now, changing depending on the traffic that arrives. This reminds me of "the Disturbance" when a privacy group in Sweden 'hacked' data-collecting boxes that track people walking through city centers via their ever-present cellphones. DFRI, the Swedish organisation for digital rights, literally jammed the boxes by giving them tons of junk information instead.

The New York Times reports that privacy advocates in the US have raised concerns about the tracking.

“People have no idea that they’re being tracked and targeted,” said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. “It is incredibly creepy, and it’s the most recent intrusion into our privacy.”

There's been a few cases of concern in digital mobile tracking in the USA, for example The Federal Trade Commission settled with Nomi Technologies, a tracking company that gathers data of how consumers move throughout a store, as they misrepresented how easy it was to opt out. Under the terms of the settlement Nomi will be prohibited from misrepresenting consumers’ options for controlling whether information is collected.

"Radar" which is the high-tech billboards will start on Monday in New York City and Los angeles, and will roll out in other large cities later.

“In aggregate, that data can then tell you information about what the average viewer of that billboard looks like,” said Andy Stevens, senior vice president for research and insights at Clear Channel Outdoor. “Obviously that’s very valuable to an advertiser.”

Clear Channel and its partners — AT&T Data Patterns, a unit of AT&T that collects location data from its subscribers; PlaceIQ, which uses location data collected from other apps to help determine consumer behavior; and Placed, which pays consumers for the right to track their movements and is able to link exposure to ads to in-store visits — all insist that they protect the privacy of consumers. All data is anonymous and aggregated, they say, meaning individual consumers cannot be identified.

There's currently a lot of tech that can track consumers via their mobile phone, that billboards will start looking at location data was inevitable. How soon until we combine the billboards with toll-style CCTV and read license plates?

Related articles on "Minority report" style ads and billboard tech:
iBeacon, it's just like Minority Report but with more shopping
NEC Japanese billboards use facial recognition tech: Hello Minority Report Future September 2010
Smile, you're on Castrol camera. Billboard dispenses oil advice tailored to you. September 2009
Minority Report -type advertising not so far away December 2002
Intelligent Billboard Unveiled September 2003
NY Times: Billboards That Look Back May 2008

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