Yahoo eyes billboard that can spy on drivers inside their cars

Yahoo, under fire over this week’s revelation that it helped the federal government spy on its users, has applied for two related patents describing a camera-equipped billboard that can spy on drivers.

The patent applications, submitted in March 2015 and made public by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Thursday, describe a billboard that has sensors including cameras, microphones and even retina scanners built in or positioned nearby.

“Image or video data may be processed to determine whether any individuals looked directly at the advertising content (e.g., using image recognition and/or eye tracking techniques),” said the patent documents, which use much of the same language in describing the technology.

Verbal reactions by passersby could be collected via microphones. “Audio data captured by one or more microphones may be processed using speech recognition techniques to identify keywords relating to the advertising that are spoken by members of the audience,” the documents said. “Image data or motion/proximity sensor data may be processed to determine whether any members of the audience paused or slowed down near the advertising content, from which it may be inferred that the pause or slowing was in response to the advertising content.”

The invention, which of course is not guaranteed to appear on roadsides, represents an attempt to bring online-style targeted advertising to billboard ads.

“Advertising in public places (e.g., roadside billboards, public transit, etc.) continues to be an important channel for advertisers even though it does not offer the kind of individual targeting by which online techniques are characterized,” the patent documents said.

“Many roadside billboards are still static printed images that must be manually installed and remain in place for long periods of time relative to the lifespan of an online ad. Some billboards have been implemented as large screens that display a fixed rotation of images… but while these billboards represent a step in the direction of the digital age, they lag far behind their online counterparts in a number of respects.”

The billboard could identify individual drivers via data from mobile devices, vehicle-navigation systems, cell towers, mobile apps and images, the documents said.

User databases would add demographic information about particular people in range of the billboard.

The system would also employ cameras and image-recognition software to identify the makes and models of vehicles to gather information about the “socioeconomic status” of people driving past. “The demographics of motorists during rush hour on a weekday in Silicon Valley can be expected to be very different from the demographics of mid-afternoon traffic in that same location on a weekend or Friday evening traffic headed into San Francisco,” the documents said.

While the patent documents describe individual targeting of advertising, the idea is to serve up ads that will appeal to as many people passing by as possible. The technology aims to create an “aggregate audience profile” of traffic passing a billboard at a particular time. That profile would be used to market space on billboards, with the space sold to advertisers in an auction process similar to that for online ads.

Yahoo is not the first company to pursue “smart” billboards. Clear Channel, a billboard-advertising company, earlier this year rolled out a program that links billboard ads to aggregate demographic information about passing motorists gathered by third party partners via the motorists’ mobile devices. Clear Channel’s “Radar” billboard-ad program does not, according to the company’s marketing material, use the cameras, microphones and other sensors described by Yahoo in its patent applications.

 

Photo: Yahoo headquarters in Sunnyvale (LiPo Ching/Bay Area News Group)

 

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  • Blank Reg

    It will start as tech designed to subject people to a never-ending barrage of push-advertising, and end as the State co-opts it to track the movements, and (dangerous?) ideas of everyone. The developers of this intrusive tech deserve a special place in hell, should such exist…

 
 
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