Telematic Billboards Tailored Just For You

This is either super cool or super scary. As usual, I’m of split minds on the subject because the marketer and technology nerd in me loves it. But, the consumer who values her privacy has got the heebie-jeebies a little bit.

GM filed a patent to use data collected from its OnStar service to tailor public advertisements to individual drivers.

The patent leverages location-based information from OnStar’s navigation system and includes the use of in-vehicle cameras to determine unspecified demographics of vehicle occupants. Even seat positions could be used to determine a driver’s age, height and weight.

Wired has some interesting ideas of what these ads could look like:

Nightmare scenarios flooded our thoughts. Kids in the backseat? Be prepared to see ads for Happy Meals and nearby amusement parks. Headed to the doctor’s office? A friendly reminder to schedule a colonoscopy, in flashing 40-foot letters.

Wired notes that like many companies filing patents, this doesn’t mean the idea will come to fruition any time soon — or at all:

“It doesn’t mean we’re ever going to do something about it, and we don’t have any plans to ever leverage it in the near future or at all,” said Nick Pudar, OnStar’s vice president of business development. “We were surprised that anyone noticed it,” Pudar admitted.

Wired also contacted privacy expert Dorothy Glancy, a Santa Clara Law professor, who said thousands of patents for targeted advertising have been filed, including some that use “vehicle telematics.” Combining telematics and advertising goes beyond what most would expect of their OnStar service, Glancy said. Should the idea ever be implemented, she thinks people should be at least told their location-based information was being sold, if not given the opportunity to opt-out. Pudar seconded the importance of this sentiment, telling Wired that use of personal data in this way would require an opt-in from users.

I imagine privacy is only one of the concerns around this concept as public safety on the roads seems paramount as well. People today are already distracted by phones and texts and nav systems and their cars blogging and tweeting for them. If we add customized billboards to the mix, I can only imagine the bumper car scenario we will see from this.

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