By: Joseph Jankowski |

In today’s world, people are leaving data trails everywhere they go as their GPS equipped smart devices and internet connected computers are always an arm’s length away. This enormous amount of data is continuously being mined on the devices and applications we choose to use.

As Bernard Marr wrote for Bloomberg:

In 2017, we generate data whenever we go online, when we carry our GPS-equipped smartphones, when we communicate with our friends through social media or chat applications, and when we shop. You could say we leave digital footprints with everything we do that involves a digital transaction, which is almost everything.

On top of this, the amount of machine-generated data is rapidly growing too. Data is generated and shared when our “smart” home devices communicate with each other or with their home servers. Industrial machinery in plants and factories around the world is increasingly equipped with sensors that gather and transmit data. Soon, self-driving cars will take to the streets, beaming a real-time, four-dimensional maps of their surroundings back home from wherever they go.

With all this data available, the advertising industry is taking full advantage of its presence and using it to target ads to individuals based on the information they bleed out of their 24/7 internet connected lives.

The specific ad targeting isn’t just present in your internet browser. It can target you where ever there is a smart billboard present.

Last year, “spying billboards” made headlines when New York Senator Chuck Schumer warned that these types of billboards are collecting information present on cell phones.

In fact, it is only a matter of time before it is commonplace for billboards on the side of the road to identify who you are and place an ad for your favorite Kellogg’s cereal right in front of your eyes as you drive yourself home from work.

A recent report in McClatchy details how companies are inching closer to placing billboards on the side of the road which will utilize cameras to read license plates, identify the make and model of your vehicle, and work to find your age, race, income level, and even your home address to pitch goods and services through the billboards.

From McClatchy:

Roadside cameras will read license plates, and powerful computers will make snap judgments based on likely home address, age, race and income level to pitch products or services through the billboards.

Once ads flash up on roadside digital screens, the sales pitch may not stop. Any mobile phones in a passing vehicle may light up with a reinforcing message linked to the ad.

A series of factors are reshaping the quintessential experience of the road trip or job commute. Smart billboards are already here, gracing the sides of bus shelters, urban interstates and pedestrian walkways. And as the digital billboards grow in size and number — rotating ads, customizing them to passing traffic and earning far more income — old-fashioned billboards face an existential moment.

Throw in artificial intelligence and powerful computers, and the roadside experience is on the cusp of change. Digital electronic billboards actually stare at us – and make judgments about who we are and how we might spend our money.

“Often your car is a proxy for demographics. We get several ad agencies who say, I want to advertise to affluent men over $100,000 (in annual salary) with XYZ education. Often driving a BMW or an Audi is a proxy for that,” Kevin Foreman, general manager of geoanalytics at INRIX, a Kirkland, Washington, company that gathers and sells real-time traffic information, told McClatchy.

One of the start-up companies using the combination of computing, roadside sensors or cameras, and information to pitch target ads at drivers is Synaps Labs. Alex Pustov, the companies co-founder said the company installs roadside cameras roughly 600 to 650 feet in front of electronic billboards. The cameras, in turn, feed the information it gathers into a computer database which will in seconds use matching information to decide what ad to fire out at passing drivers.

“Initially, it was labor intensive. We needed to collect millions of images,” Pustov said. “We manually created libraries of car makes and models.”

The Synaps Labs founder explained that this type of information gathering and ad targeting could be used on multiple vehicles where the computers will determine broad groups of targets, like owners of older automobiles, and flash ads accordingly.

“Most car companies want to advertise to seven- to 12-year-old cars. They don’t want to advertise to a 1- to 2-year-old car,” INRIX manager Kevin Foreman said. “Ford spending money on you when you’ve just bought a new Ford is lousy. But me, I have a 12-year-old Ford. I’m a great candidate.”

These smart billboards will also be equipped with the ability to pick up cellular or mobile signatures, WiFi signals and even pull information off certain apps in order to more effectively advertise to those driving by.

McClatchy’s report notes:

Industry experts are cautious to note that the data harvesting is anonymous, hoping not to evoke the creepy billboards of the 2002 movie Minority Report in which a protagonist finds signage addressed to him directly.

While these smart billboards may not be – at the moment – screaming out your name to bring your attention to the beer you like to drink like the smart ads did in the movie Minority Report, but it is damn near close to that point.

“It doesn’t have to know who you are. It needs to know what you are. It says I see phone ID 453ABCD. I happen to know that phone number is associated with a millennial Hispanic female, therefore send it this ad,” Andrew R. Sriubas, chief commercial officer at OUTFRONT Media, said to McClatchy.

While the roll-out of the smart billboard technology will hit its hurdles in different parts of the United States as municipalities, counties and states have different restrictions on placement, brightness, and frequency of rotation of outdoor ads, and whether distractive video can be displayed, one this is certain: Minority Report is looking more and more like the reality we live in today.

As long as people are willing to click the ‘I allow’ button on their smartphones and apps, the big data mining companies will continue to gather that information and advertisers will use the information’s availability to their advantage.


Joseph Jankowski is a contributor for Planet Free His works have been published by recognizable alternative news sites like,,, and