On Sunday, May 1st in Times Square, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer urged the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate the use of ‘spying billboards,’ which are popping up in cities across the country.
“A person’s cell phone should not become a James Bond-like personal tracking device for a corporation to gather information about consumers without their consent, said Schumer. “No one wants to be followed or tracked throughout their day, electronically or otherwise, so these new billboards not only raise eyebrows, but they raise some serious questions about privacy."
The new billboards have the ability to track a person’s every move using locational data on a person’s mobile device. Companies often use locational data as a way to boost their consumer-information base that can be used to market goods and services or as data to sell to other companies.
Schumer believes the collection of such data may violate the privacy of Americans and constitute a deceptive trade practice because most consumers do not know that they are being tracked.
To combat this invasion of privacy, Schumer urged the FTC to require that billboard companies, like Clear Channel Outdoor, offer an opt-out option for consumers who do not want to be monitored or tracked.
A copy of Schumer’s letter is below:
Dear Chairwoman Ramirez:
I write today to bring your attention to spying billboards, a product recently introduced to my home state of New York and soon to be featured across the United States. I am concerned that, without proper notice to consumers and opportunity for them to opt-out of tracking, these smart billboards violate the privacy of Americans and may constitute an unfair or deceptive trade practice.
Clear Channel Outdoor Americas recently partnered with several companies to create Radar, an initiative to track an individual’s travel patterns and behavior through the locational data on their mobile device. Clear Channel Outdoor has tens of thousands of mobile and digital billboards across the United States and plans to provide advertisers with data on individuals who pass its billboards – some of which are equipped with small cameras that collect information. Using the data and analytics, Clear Channel can amass a collection of information, such as the average age and gender, about individuals who view a particular billboard, in a certain place, at any given time. I am worried about the way this data will be collected for so many unsuspecting individuals.
With the proliferation of geo-locational and tracking data, we are now able to keep in touch in ways that are unimaginable. In this growing market, companies have been able to use locational data as a way to boost their consumer base, strengthen ad sales or refine targeted demographics. Because this technology allows the collection of such a tremendous amount of data, however, it should have the highest level of privacy protections possible. Without clear policies that provide consumers full disclosure of the data that is collected, and an opportunity to opt-out when necessary, consumers lose the opportunity to make an informed choice about their privacy.
In light of the privacy concerns that exist with these “spying billboards”, I ask that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigate, to ensure that Clear Channel Outdoor is acting transparently in this initiative, and consider if consumers should be given the opportunity to opt-out of the sale of their data. I hope that you will do what you can to ensure this growing technology is coupled with policies that protect the privacy of the American people.
Thank you and I look forward to working with you on this important issue.
U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer?