'Incredibly Creepy' Billboards to Track Behavior of Passers-By

Billboards across the country will soon begin to spy on the behavior of passers-by and sell that data to advertisers.

Clear Channel Outdoor Americas, which owns tens of thousands of billboards nationwide, is on Monday announcing plans to use people’s cell phones to allow its billboards to track the behavior of everyone who walks or drives past the ads.

“People have no idea that they’re being tracked and targeted,” Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, told the New York Times, which broke the news on Sunday. “It is incredibly creepy, and it’s the most recent intrusion into our privacy.”

The marketing behemoth is partnering with AT&T and other companies that track human behavior to collect data on viewers’ activity, which advertisers could then use to create hyper-targeted ads—similar to how websites track visitors through their browsers and sell that data to online marketers.

The problem, say privacy advocates, is that most people when out in public will have no idea that their every move is being recorded and analyzed and sold for marketing purposes. When similar ads that used smartphones to track behavior were installed in phone booths in New York City in 2008, there was loud public outcry and the billboards were quickly removed after a Buzzfeed investigation.