Personalized or snoopy?

High-tech billboards tune in to drivers' tastes
Roadside signs coming to Bay Area listen to car radios, then adjust pitch

Robert Salladay, SF Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, December 22, 2002


The billboard is listening.

    In an advertising ploy right out of Steven Spielberg's "Minority Report," electronic billboards in the Bay Area and Sacramento are being equipped to profile commuters as they whiz by -- and then instantly personalize freeway ads based on the wealth and habits of those drivers.

    For example, if the freeway were packed with country music listeners, the billboards might make a pitch for casinos. If National Public Radio were on, the billboards could change to ads for a high-quality car or a gourmet grocery.

    The billboards -- in Palo Alto, Daly City and Fremont -- will pick up which radio stations are being played and then instantly access a vast databank of information about the people who typically listen to those stations. The electronic ads will then change to fit listener profiles.

    In the buzzy hum of 21st century commercialism, it's the latest way for businesses to target consumers without wasting money on scattershot appeals. Many auto dealerships already use a similar system to identify the stations people are listening to as they pull into a car lot -- and then place ads on those stations.

Don't get me started on John Poindexter's Pentagon operation that wants to put together the world's largest data warehouse from phone, purchase, tax, travel, school, passport, military, Internet, and other records to predict whether you're a bad guy, all without violating your privacy. Uh huh.

two hours later

An article in tomorrow's New York Times (it's already tomorrow in New York) reports that "a prototype [of Poindexter's Total Information Awareness project] is already in place and has been used in tests by military intelligence organizations."

    Total Information Awareness could link for the first time such different electronic sources as video feeds from airport surveillance cameras, credit card transactions, airline reservations and telephone calling records. The data would be filtered through software that would constantly look for suspicious patterns of behavior.

Posted by Jay Cross at December 22, 2002 08:27 PM | TrackBack
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