GM’s data mining is just the beginning of the in-car advertising blitz

The Detroit Free Press reported on General Motors' radio-tracking program – which monitored the listening habits of 90,000 drivers in the Los Angeles and Chicago areas for three months in late 2017 – that it became clear that the future of targeted advertising in cars is … Well, it's practically already here.

GM captured minuted details such as the station name, volume level, and ZIP codes of vehicle owners, and then the car's built-in Wi-Fi signal to upload the data to its servers. The goal was to determine the relationship between what to buy and what to buy, and then turn around and sell the data to advertisers and radio operators. And it got really specific: GM tracked a driver listening to country music who stopped at a Tim Horton's restaurant.

GM says the whole concept is still theoretical for now. No one's data has been sold (or "licensed," as GM prefers to call it). But GM spokesperson James Cain says that the connected vehicle data can help develop more accurate ways to measure radio listenership. It could prove useful to the terrestrial radio industry, which continues to lose territory and ad dollars to digital streaming services like YouTube, Spotify, and Apple Music. And GM sounds happy with the results.

"Our proof of concept has generated interest in the advertising and broadcast communities," Cain says. "

Today, radio advertising is slapdash." The ads we hear when we turn on the radio are the results of a system that assigns listenership to specific radio channels, which experts say can be inaccurate and error-prone.

But in the future, GM is collecting, in-car advertising can be more targeted and more efficient. based on specific consumer habits, akin to the ads you see in your Instagram feed. The radio industry will probably not be able to reverse its declining number of listeners, but better data might let stations change programming or more accurately reflect what is popular with listeners, says Michael Ramsey, a mobility analyst at Gartner. "GM is just showing one of the many ways its telematics data can be used to make money," Ramsey says.

The experiment underscores how our cars will become rolling listening posts. They can track our phone calls, log our text messages, answer our voice commands, and, yes, even record our radio stations. And automakers, local governments, retailers, insurers, and tech companies want to leverage that data as best they can, especially as cars become more automated and transform into self-driving shuttles.

According to research firm McKinsey, connected cars create up to 600GB of data per day – the equivalent of more than 100 hours of HD video every 60 minutes – and self-driving cars are expected to generate more than 150 times that amount. The value of this data is expected to reach more than $ 1.5 trillion by the year 2030, McKinsey says.

In the near term, though, privacy advocates worry that GM has taken the first steps toward surveilling unwitting customers. The automaker says that customers are using connected services in the first place. But John Simpson, director of Consumer Watchdog's Privacy and Technology Project, says he is "likely to be vague and not terribly descriptive so he really does not understand what is going on and what is being gathered about them."


The Detroit Free Press report focused on a presentation by Saejin Park, director of global digital transformation at GM, at a September 12th meeting of the Association of National Advertisers.

"We can tell you if they listened to the end," Park said at the conference, according to WARC, a global digital subscription service that attended the conference and prepared a report on it.

The experiment was lasted from November 2017 through January 2018, and it showed, for. example, that different GM nameplates may be associated with a certain psychological profile. The owner of a Cadillac Escalade, for example, "might be more likely to listen to 101.5. But there is more to it than to listen to 101.1, "Park said.

In another example, a driver listened to a country music channel often and stopped at a Tim Horton's restaurant.