UK Billboards Equipped With License Plate Spy Cameras

The Newspaper
by The Newspaper

An advertising campaign in the UK began using automated number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras to identify passing vehicles and create personalized advertisements. The motor oil giant Castrol UK Limited yesterday activated a set of five electronic billboards in London that flash an image of the exact type of Castrol-brand motor oil appropriate for the nearest vehicle. “The right oil for your car is: Castrol Magnatec 5W-30 A1,” the advertisement reads for eight seconds as a Jaguar with the license plate 1DFL drives past. The roadside digital billboards, seventeen feet wide and eight feet high, are owned by Clear Channel Outdoor. Castrol’s campaign added the license scanning technology which ties into the official UK Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) database. The agency provides private registration information to just about any company willing to pay the desired fee. According to Castrol, this particular campaign does not store any information about what vehicles or drivers pass the sign.

“The majority of car owners have little understanding of the purpose of oil in an engine, and as a result are using oil which is not beneficial to their type and age of car, resulting in higher maintenance costs and fuel consumption,” Ali Gee, head of consultancy at Three Monkeys, Castrol’s advertising firm, explained in a statement. “Our campaign will help to convey the benefits of ensuring the use of the right oil for your car.”

ANPR cameras are used by law enforcement and private companies throughout the US and the UK with no established legal framework limiting their use. Castrol’s website offers more detailed information about a vehicle’s specifications based upon its license plate.


The Newspaper
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  • Stingray Stingray on Sep 23, 2009
    Paul Niedermeyer : Next thing you know, the billboard will know how long since your last oil change. It could get much much worse... like appointing and charging the oil change... for the customer's "convenience". Down here, such prostitution of private information would be a feast for thieves, hijackers, scammers and even the government. Right now the databases "filter" from say a phone company and is sold illegally in CD form in the streets. Sometimes is good to be in the 3rd world (not so much technology)
  • HLGCDT HLGCDT on Sep 28, 2009

    Unfortunately, license plate scanning is just the tip of the iceberg. The Center for Democracy & Technology recently wrote an article on new ways that digital billboards are monitoring consumers. That article is here: This sort of surveillance-for-profit raises serious privacy issues. The UK government is scanning license plates for security and traffic congestion, and now the advertising industry is mirroring those practices for targeted marketing. At what point does privacy cease being an expectation and instead becomes a fundamental right?

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