‘Spying Billboards’ Are Tracking Your Cellphone, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer Warns

'Spying Billboards' Are Tracking Your Cellphone, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer Warns
Billboard showing beach scene in tiled underpass (Digital Composite)

U.S. senator is calling for a federal investigation into an outdoor advertising company’s latest effort to target billboard ads to specific consumers.

New York Sen. Charles Schumer has dubbed Clear Channel Outdoor Americas‘ so-called RADAR program “spying billboards,” warning the service may violate privacy rights by tracking people’s cellphone data via the ad space.

A person’s cellphone should not become a James Bond-like personal tracking device for a corporation to gather information about consumers without their consent,” Schumer, a Democrat, said in a statement ahead of a planned news conference Sunday in Times Square.”

In a statement, company spokesman Jason King said the RADAR program is based on a year-old advertising technique that uses only aggregated and anonymized informationfrom other companies that certify they’re following consumer protection standards.

The companyDoes not receive or collect personally identifiable information about consumers for use in RADAR,” CEO Scott Wells wrote in a March letter to Sen. Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat. “It’s not necessary for the insights we are offering our advertising customers.”

The ad program is a partnership between Clear Channel and other companies, including AT&T and technology companies that collect location data from smartphone apps, company officials have said.

In a video on its website, the company says itMeasures consumersreal-world travel patterns and behaviors as they move through their day, analyzing data on direction of travel, billboard viewability, and visits to specific destinations.” That information, the company says, is then mapped against Clear Channel’s displays, which would allow advertisers to buy ads in places that would reach specific behavioral audience segments.

Clear Channel usesAggregate and anonymous mobile consumer information,” the company said. The program gives marketers a “solution that provides more accurate way to understand and target specific audience segments,” Clear Channel’s vice-president, Andy Stevens, said in a news release announcing the initiative in February.

An investigation into the company is necessary because most people don’t realize their location data is being mined, even if they agreed to it at some point by accepting the terms of service of an app that later sells their location information, Schumer said.