Big Brother Watching? How Digital Billboards Can Help Turn Public Space Into a Giant Spycam


The video above illustrates how a digital billboard in the UK reads license numbers of passing cars and uses that information to interact with the driver in an oil company marketing campaign. Digital billboards are already capable of determining what radio stations are on in passing cars, and billboards with embedded cameras and software to determine the gender and age of passersby are being tested in several places.

Objections to digital billboards are usually based one or more of the following: their extreme brightness, which constitutes visual blight and causes light trespass into homes and apartments; their excessive energy consumption; and their potential to distract drivers and present a hazard to motorists and pedestrians.   But what of their potential, currently limited only by technology, to observe, record, and otherwise invade the privacy of anyone who happens into their territory? There aren’t any legal limits on this invasive activity, and the advertising industry is busily devising ever-more sophisticated means of gathering information and targeting consumers.

Which raises the question: Do people give up any right to privacy once they get into a car and drive down the street?

Dennis Hathaway

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