Big Brother is Watching You–From a Billboard

Big Brother

Ever since George Orwell’s now-classic novel “1984” was published in 1949, critics and others have speculated about the origin of the “Big Brother” character that keeps a constant eye on inhabitants of Orwell’s fictional country of Oceania. One has suggested that Orwell got the idea from billboard ads for a British correspondence course that featured the business owner’s image and the words, “Let Me Be Your Big Brother.”

Whether true or not, this serves as an apt preface to media reports about billboards that can now track you as you drive by and collect data—what kind of car you’re driving, your age and gender, even where you’re going. All in service of the holy grail of advertisers, which is the ability to target their sales pitches to a precisely defined audience.

This brilliant idea—or unwarranted invasion of privacy, depending upon your point of view—was just tested in the Los Angeles Area by CBS Outdoor, which is in the process of changing its name to Outfront Media, perhaps to better exemplify its commitment to the surveillance society. According to this article in Advertising Age, a billboard on the 10 freeway even gathered data showing that certain drivers were headed for a nearby strip club.

To be fair, you have to have a certain app and technological device in your car for this to work, but it does show how deeply advertisers would like to poke into our lives to sell their products and services. And to use public space that belongs to everyone in pursuit of that goal.

Dennis Hathaway

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