NEWS28 January 2010

Digital outdoor ads risk creating ‘one-way-mirror society’


US— A new report from the World Privacy Forum warns that digital signage systems fitted with sensors, cameras and facial recognition systems for the delivery of targeted advertising risk creating a “one-way-mirror society”.

The report, published yesterday, outlines the concerns over privacy surrounding Minority Report-style bi-direction billboards, which are designed to gather information on who is looking at them and to display targeted ads for that audience.

The concerns over these ‘billboards that look back’ have not been adequately addressed, the report says, and the technology is open to abuse.

“These technologies are quickly becoming ubiquitous in the offline world, and there is little if any disclosure to consumers that information about behavioural and personal characteristics is being collected and analysed to create highly targeted advertisements, among other things.”

One example cited in the report is a campaign by oil firm Castrol in London last year. It used roadside cameras to capture the licence plates of cars, then matched the registration to the make and model of car using data from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and displayed on a digital billboard the licence number and recommended Castrol oil for that particular car. The campaign prompted an investigation by the DVLA into how Castrol got hold of its data.

The World Privacy Forum is calling for:

  • Better notice and disclosure about when and how information is being collected and used
  • Prohibitions on digital signage in certain locations including bathrooms and health facilities
  • More robust ways for consumers to control how their data is captured and used
  • Special rules for collecting images and information on chlidren

It warns the industry to avoid “one-sided” self-regulation.

The World Privacy Forum was one of the groups that provided evidence to the Federal Trade Commission’s roundtable events on privacy last year.