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Tuesday, May 18, 2021

THE POLITICAL FRONT: SPYING BILLBOARDS

Whenever you’re driving on the freeway or through a city, you see billboards lining the road left and right. Who knew while you were seeing and reading these billboards, there is a possibility they were doing the same thing? After New York Sen. Charles Schumer learned of these “spying billboards,” he urged the Federal Trade Commission on Sunday, May 1, to look into the use of them.

According to Schumer, the billboards use their spying techniques to track a person’s travel pattern using technology built into the sign, including a camera, and tied to the GPS location system in the individual’s smartphone. In an article from the New York Post, Schumer said the billboard companies are selling the information to marketing firms and companies.

“New spying billboards are being installed across the country, including right here in New York City, and they are being used to collect your mobile phone data,” Schumer said.

Who would create billboards that are designed to steal information from you as you pass by? Clear Channel, in partnership with other companies such as AT&T through a program called RADAR.

“What we have to look at now is what we’re going to be doing in the future.”

Kaleb Hebert

While the company’s spokesman Jason King stated that the program is based on an old advertising technique that “uses only aggregated and anonymized information,” Schumer is concerned that the program may be violating privacy rights because the data collected would include people’s age, sex and how long they were within the tracking distance of the billboard.

Freshman Kaleb Hebert thinks that the evolution of technology is happening too fast for us to process what we need to do to adapt as a society.

“[Phones] can track everything about you, and I think that’s pretty amazing,” Hebert said. “But technology is evolving so fast that I don’t think our minds and values have evolved as fast as technology has evolved. We’ve almost hit that singularity point of technology where it’s evolved so fast that we can’t control it anymore, so we really have to take a step back and re-analyze and re-look at how we look at privacy.”

While RADAR may pose a problem in the new age of technology, is it really so surprising? Everywhere you look, you see people on their phones, tablets, laptops, iPads, etc. Do people really believe that with storage savers, such as iCloud, our information isn’t being collected and analyzed?

Hebert doesn’t think so. He thinks it is our duty to take certain steps in order to minimize the data that is being looked at, such as having your phone on airplane mode while you aren’t using it and being aware of how technology can be breached.

The internet is a vast network that virtually connects many people around the world. In order to promote more relevant advertisements to customers, it shouldn’t be so shocking organizations may want to track what you browse through or look up in your search engine. Stores such as Target already use techniques like this by tracking your Guest ID number, which is tied to your credit card, name and/or e-mail address. In addition to Target, there are many other stores that collect customer information, such as Fred Meyer and Walmart.

Tracking can be so extensive one man in Minneapolis found out his daughter was pregnant after seeing the advertisements that Target was sending her. Originally, the father walked into a Target store demanding to speak to a manager, claiming that Target was targeting his daughter, who was still in high school, and promoting pregnancy. After going home and talking to his daughter, he discovered that she was indeed pregnant and Target was trying to send her relevant ads related to her prior searches and purchases through her store account.

“What we have to look at now is what we’re going to be doing in the future,” Hebert said.

What do you think about the spying billboards? Let The Western Front know in the comments.

Vanessa Thomas, The Political Front reporter // Photo courtesy of Vanessa Thomas
Vanessa Thomas, The Political Front reporter // Photo courtesy of Vanessa Thomas

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