back to article Yahoo! spymasters! patent! biometric! online! ad! tracking! IRL!

Privacy sell-out Yahoo! has filed patents for roadside billboards outfitted with biometric spy cameras and microphones to collect data from passers-by. The NSA's bed warmer described a billboard that contained video and audio collection capabilities, and even retina scans and speech recognition to determine what viewers are …

  1. Mark 85

    void that sees advertisers unable to measure engagement with audiences.

    Seriously? We're supposed to be "engaged" with ads? There's so much going on where most billboards are that they usually get ignored with the rest of the background clutter.

    1. paulf
      Big Brother

      FTA: "Sensors in the billboards would determine if pedestrians slow their pace or if drivers ease the gas to rubber neck at the so-called "smart billboards"."

      Translating actions like that into advertising effectiveness is quite a leap. Will the billboard be able to realise if vehicles are slowing down for other reasons like traffic?

      The other year there were bus stop adverts for a fruity soft drink that were quite amusing. Once or twice I did slow down to read them, chuckle, then I just carried on but I've never bought that brand of drink. Back in the day I used to find those adverts for cigars amusing (the ones with baldy man in them) but I've never smoked. I suspect this kind of feedback will be as much use as that from the creepy on line tracking done by Google et al, "You've just bought a toaster - look at all these other toasters".

      Oh and El Reg are on form with stuff like this: "Privacy sell-out Yahoo!...", "The NSA's bed warmer..." and "The P0wnage Palace...". Please keep hammering home how rotten Yahoo is, in case there's anyone who doesn't yet know.

      1. Crazy Operations Guy

        " if drivers ease the gas to rubber neck at the so-called "smart billboards" "

        Waiting for the first case where the driver of a rear-ended vehicle sues the advertising company for purposefully distracting drivers... Making an intentional distraction like that has to be against so many laws.

        1. Gnosis_Carmot

          I emailed my local legislative critters about a year ago. Some jerkwad had come up with the idea of placing full window-sized LCD panels in the rear windows of vehicles to show rotating adverts. Hyper distracting as it was BRIGHT and directly in the traffic lane field of vision. Long and short - the business got shut down by the DOT for making devices that created a safety hazard

          Side note : The most amusing advert running on the jerkwad's display did make me contact State Farm Insurance - to point out how stupid one of their auto insurance agents was for advertising in a way that was dangerously distracting and how it was likely to result in increased claims.

    2. fidodogbreath

      This ad is #1

      measure engagement with audiences

      If it is to accurately measure engagement, the video recognition routine must be trained to understand a raised middle finger.

  2. Coen Dijkgraaf

    Prior art?

    This should possibly be thrown out due to prior art, this idea was used in the film Minority Report where a holographic add used a retinal scan to identify customers. In this case incorrectly as he had an eye transplant to avoid detection. See

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    This perfectly coincides with the arrival of augmented reality, which will allow real life adblocking.

  4. MrDamage Silver badge

    go ahead and trac drivers

    Record the ones who slow down to take their eyes off the road and stare at a billboard. Doubly so if it's an "active" billboard that requires more than happy glance to parse the information advertised.

    Then watch sue-happy America let loose against this tech as they claim the billboard "forced" them to stop watching what they were going. Records from the data slurping will be used against the advertisers in the courts.

    End result: no more billboards (we can hope)

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: go ahead and trac drivers

      I do fully expect someone to sue because offended by the dildo ad he or somebody else got tracked into.

      You know it's gonna happen.

  5. Your alien overlord - fear me

    Sticking cameras in to track people. Not a privacy issue at all then. Considering it'll just be a live feed to NSA!

  6. Pen-y-gors


    I really, really don't want to have to walk around in a full-face, reflective visor motorbike helmet all the time, but it's looking like the best option.

    1. fidodogbreath

      Re: Grrrr...

      Some say he eats relevant ads for breakfast, and his farts smell like persistent cookies. All we know is, HE'S CALLED THE STIG!

  7. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    If these advertisers put so much effort into understanding the "audience" how come they still haven't understood how much they're hated and despised? Have ad blockers told them nothing?

    1. Gnosis_Carmot

      Yes, that's why they've partnered with Adblock Plus to let certain ads on through despite the user's wishes.

  8. Christoph

    Will the sensors be able to analyze the exact colour of the spray-paint they were covered with within minutes of starting to spy on passers-by?

  9. druck Silver badge

    Billboard Blocker Plus?

    "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," Yahoo! says in its patent application.

    Well just like online, we are going to have to come up with ad blockers for billboards now.

  10. Pen-y-gors

    This could be quite fun...

    Billboards obviously come under the realm of IoT and so we all know how easy they'll be to hack. How about loading them up throughout the land to recognise the faces of Tory ministers and MPs and show them a graphic goatse advert or something? (I'd suggest something useful like illustrated appeals for Syrian refugees, but I suspect they'd be totally wasted). And can they recognise numberplates on ministerial limos?

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Driverless cars

    Will driverless cars operated by competing ad slingers automatically speed up when it spots one of these billboards?

    1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Re: Driverless cars

      Yes, but only for premium account holders.

  12. Gnosis_Carmot

    Wonder if they'll measure...

    ...people saying "F___ that s___" or giving the advert boards the finger?

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