Recently, Anti-Media covered the revelation that Samsung transmits audio commands recorded by their Smart TVs to a third-party company, which raises all sorts of red flags regarding encryption standards and, more importantly, people’s privacy in their own homes.
Last year, a list of surprising objects endowed with surveillance or data extraction capabilities were reported— including the Statue of Liberty, mannequins, billboards, and more. The company Immersive Labs, for instance, creates software for digital billboards that allows them to watch your face and then tailor a specific ad based on your facial features.
On Monday, the next generation of corporate surveillance was deployed — a new kind of billboard that utilizes surveillance triangulation the likes of which we’ve never seen.
According to the article entitled “See That Billboard? It May See You,” Clear Channel Outdoor Americas has partnered with a bevy of tech and data companies, including AT&T, to combine billboard surveillance and location-based mobile data in order to study people’s travel patterns and shopping behaviors. The program, called Radar, will hit 11 major markets this coming Monday. Clear Channel plans on expanding Radar to the entire nation within a year.
Billboards equipped with cameras that track consumers is not new, but tracking drivers by aggregating data from both billboards and mobile phones simultaneously is an evolution in data mining.
Information gleaned from these new billboards will include the average age and gender of people who pass by, as well as the time and what stores they subsequently visit. The info collected from the billboards will then be paired with data from the third-party companies for a one-two punch that will be very valuable to advertisers.
In essence, there is a tag-team effect: the billboards identify you, then the third-party companies use your mobile phone to follow and track your consumer behavior.
For instance, PlaceIQ will use mobile apps to determine location data and consumer behavior. In an article for Adweek entitled “The Future of Auto Marketing Could Be a Little Creepy – Get ready for brands to follow you everywhere,” PlaceIQ CEO and co-founder Duncan McCall discussed another campaign “designed to target in-market car buyers, one that tracks people from the moment they begin contemplating making a purchase to the moment they leave their house and head to the dealer.”
Another third-party company involved in Clear Channel Outdoor’s Radar billboard campaign, Placed, will use the tracked movements of the consumer to craft customized in-store ads. Placed uses mobile phones to verify shopper movements; they sell this data to stores, online retailers, and app developers.
Between the billboards and third-party companies, it sounds as if the Radar program seeks to create a consumer environment where citizens can be publicly tracked — whether in their cars or after they have parked and are shopping (or simply taking a walk) — synchronously and in perpetuity.
Both PlaceIQ and Placed claim all the data they collect is anonymized.
Clear Channel Outdoor tested the new Radar system in Orlando, Florida recently, using a billboard advertisement for Toms Shoes.
Unsurprisingly, privacy advocates condemn the new campaign as yet another violation of consumer trust.
“People have no idea that they’re being tracked and targeted,” says Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. “It is incredibly creepy, and it’s the most recent intrusion into our privacy.”
According to Amie Stepanovich of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, corporate surveillance is especially troubling because in many cases, it paves the way for government surveillance. As the top secret military agency DARPA advances complex new war weapons, many times it relies on private contractors to move the needle. The same goes for surveillance: in creating their consumer profiles, corporations essentially run a kind of societal beta test of surveillance programs from which the government can pick and choose.
Stepanovich describes it like this:
“None of the information in question would be sharable if Internet and telecommunications companies encrypted it to protect privacy. In other words, it’s not a given that corporations must collect vast amounts of information from and about us. But failing to do so wouldn’t be good for business.”
Here she is referring to metadata gathered online, but the same applies to analytics collected on the street. We’re entering an era in which surveillance is essentially ubiquitous. Concurrently, privacy advocates say new guidelines and ethical contracts need to be considered.
Already, judicial actions have made an impact. Last year the Federal Trade Commission settled charges against retail-tracking company Nomi Technologies, which was found to have misled consumers regarding their practice of gathering signals from shoppers’ mobile phones.
In the meantime, besides moving to Antarctica and relinquishing all technology, what can consumers and citizens do to protect themselves from intrusive data mining and surveillance?
The Electronic Frontier Foundation offers a comprehensive suite of free encryption tools and tutorials for protecting your online data, including information stored on mobile phones.
There are also techniques available for camouflaging yourself from surveillance cameras. Using makeup patterns called ‘computer vision dazzle’ (or CV dazzle), it is possible to fool the facial recognition algorithms of many surveillance systems.