By on September 25, 2018

GM marketplace

General Motors has begun surveying how its drivers experience in-car multimedia, specifically the radio, as part of its new strategy to track customer habits and maximize the profitability of information. With 4G LTE WiFi connectivity now featured inside millions of GM vehicles, the automaker believes technology can be used to fine tune its future marketing strategies.

While an invaluable insight tool for advertisers, it’s also the perfect example of the kind of thing we’ve been complaining about for the last couple of years. General Motors is leaning into Big Data as hard as possible, meaning your personal information could soon be on the line — if it isn’t already. 

Earlier this week, WARC reported that Saejin Park, director of global digital transformation at General Motors, discussed this subject at the Association of National Advertisers’ (ANA) 2018 Data & Measurement Conference. “The radio industry and the car industry have been existing side by side … But, really, there hasn’t been that much interaction between the two,” she told the audience.

Before you grow terrified that we’ve already entered into a Big Brother scenario, GM’s initial testing did require customer opt-in before their data was flung around country. But Park said the automaker still managed to collect radio listening data on roughly 90,000 vehicles from Los Angeles and Chicago between November 2017 through January 2018.

By matching audio feeds from AM and FM waves, as well as XM satellite radio, the Detroit-based automaker claims it can track a customer’s listening habits and align radio cues with specific consumer behaviors. “We can tell if they listened to it to the end. Or, in the middle of the commercial, did they change it to another station?” Park said, adding that even vehicle type influenced radio trends.

“[Someone in an Escalade] might be more likely to listen to 101.5. But someone else might be driving a GMC Yukon — same-sized vehicle, but a different brand — would be more likely to listen to 101.1,” Park said. “And you can start testing [that] by sending them different kinds of advertising to see some kind of behavior in the [listening] patterns.”

Basically, GM would pass the data to its marketing teams and they would assess how to best cater ads to customers. If no one who plans on buying a Cadillac is listening to one station, GM can buy ad space from one that does. It can also track consumer listening habits and sell that information to other companies. For example, imagine there is a soda commercial you absolutely hate that forces you to change the station. That might be the kind of thing the makers of said beverage might pay to know about.

However, Park said the potential applications of such technology reach much further than simply keeping tabs on what you’re listening to. “We’re looking for ways to use these kinds of datasets. It’s a complicated, complex problem and I don’t know what the answer is. But GM is really interested in finding out what the potential path could be,” she added.

You can use your imagination at this point, as General Motors almost certainly is. Theoretically, connected cars could transmit more information than just radio traffic. What, where, and how you’re driving are all up for grabs. If you’re near a store that’s partnered with Chevrolet, GMC, Buick, or Cadillac, then you might get a reminder on your dashboard to stock up on something — in fact, the company has already discussed this possibility. If you already stopped, GM might send that information along to the retailer. Hell, it might even if you don’t stop.

It’s a lot of power for one company to have, but it likely won’t be just one company. General Motors happens to be blazing this particular trail; there are other manufacturers directly behind it considering the exact same things. Frankly, there’s too much money to be made for them not to.

[Image: General Motors]

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31 Comments on “Opening Pandora’s Box: GM Tracking Consumer Listening Behavior in Cars...”


  • avatar
    theBrandler

    I was wanting a 2016 Camaro SS…now I’m asking, how do I unplug the 4G antenna from one if I do decide on it?

  • avatar
    Garrett

    I don’t know what I hate more: their start/stop that can’t be disabled, or this.

    Go ahead and switch to CVTs while you’re at it. You’ve managed to alienate me really well thus far, might as well make it complete.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    I am opposed to this kind of tracking. Even if it is effective for some people, such tracking and targeted advertising means that people receive an ever-narrowing selection of ads, to the point that the consumer either simply never hears about things that may, peripherally, interest them or get flooded by ads on products they already own. Both are completely worthless to the consumer and incredibly annoying to most.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    This is sick stuff.

  • avatar
    mikedt

    Like I needed another reason to avoid GM. They finally fought back from the crap they made during the malaise years only to alienate customers (anybody tuned into the tech scene) with this.

  • avatar
    TMA1

    Makes me glad to limit my use of media to a few ad-free subscription services. At least I don’t have to change channels every time an annoying advertisement starts.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      Wonder what they’ll do when they find out you NEVER listen to broadcast radio and instead play off your smartphone instead?

      • 0 avatar
        TMA1

        Honestly, I’m at a loss to understand how broadcast radio survives. The few times I’ve tuned in by accident (did I just answer my own question?), it’s mostly commercials.

        Pandora and Sirius are both $5 a month with no commercials. I’ll spare myself the grief of dealing with AM/FM.

        • 0 avatar
          Sub-600

          Every now and again I’ll turn on local broadcast radio, the commercials are welcomed relief from the onslaught of the lame DJs trying to outdo each other. It’s a desolate medium that won’t recover.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I’d pay money to see their logs from when DW drives one of their cars.

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    If I drive by the Bunny Ranch my vehicle will alert me if there are any current GM specific promotions?

  • avatar
    sco

    “We’re looking for ways to use these kinds of datasets…I don’t know what the answer is”

    Hoo, i’m sure GM has several “answers” already. I’m only interested if the system detects my turning the channel everytime a Kars for Kids commercial comes on and subsequently stops playing them

  • avatar
    redapple

    You know what?
    I am so done with GGM.

    They ve earn each inch of dislike I have for them.

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    I don’t like this kinda garbage one bit either.

    But to act like this is only GM, give me a break. They’re all doing it, or all of them will soon be doing it.

    And if the car isn’t doing it, then that phone in your pocket already is.

    And yeah, I don’t like that one bit either.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @Jerome 10: Somehow this is way more evil if GM is doing it. I’m sure if some other manufacturer offered it, this would be considered ground breaking and acceptable.

      Let’s get something straight. Privacy was dead 15-20 years ago, if not longer. If you think that ALL of your pertinent information isn’t all over the “dark web” and has been for years, you’re out of your mind.

      Data mining, whether GM or Verizon or the FBI or the Chinese, is nothing new and will only continue to grow. You may not like it, but you WILL live with it.

  • avatar
    Advance_92

    It’s nothing your phone and computer don’t already do. But having your autonomous car take you to McDonalds and then not let you leave (as with page re-directs) will be kind of funny.

  • avatar
    jfb43

    OnStar was enough to keep me away from GM. Then they added the 4G junk. This is just another nail in the coffin. I have enough things spying on me; I don’t need my car doing it, too.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    Oh deary.

    Are there models on offer without the bs 4G hotspot? Isn’t it enough that the phones track us with more granularity than this ever could? I mean I think in the last 5 years I’ve listened to terrestrial radio for maybe 2 hours. When I do listen it’s a station with a robotic DJ and no annoying talking heads. If anything I mute the commercials and station bumps.

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    They have methane sensors in the drivers seat that activate the windows if levels go above 2 parts per million. Then the nav system routes the GM vehicle to a drugstore that carries Gas-X and Depends.

  • avatar
    JMII

    I unplugged the OnStar in my ‘Vette on week 2 of ownership. I don’t think it was active anyway because I got the car used and never paid for the service. Regardless its off line now… the red and blue lights in the mirror where seriously annoying so it had to go! I just listen to SiriusXM and my iPhone, I only switch over to AM if I want to catch up on the local sports play-by-play if I happen to be driving when a game is on. FM is dead to me.

    What I did find interesting was SiriusXM called me 2 days after I took delivery asking if I wanted to pay for the service. I never gave them my phone number so I guess the dealer entered it into some database? Not cool! It was a little creepy that they knew I was the new owner and wanted my $$ so quickly. I told them when the trial period ends I might call back. My wife had a used Volvo and the SiriusXM service worked for nearly two years before the radio switched off.

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    My wife and I would be a disappointment to GM. We never responded when the (Ford) dealer offered to sync the new car we had just bought to her phone. We don’t have satellite radio and all I listen to is the university’s classical music station. My wife listens less often than I. The station sort of has commercials but they’re not obnoxious like the ones on commercial radio and television. I turn the radio off entirely during the periodic beg-a-thons.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    That’s why I won’t use the hotspot or built in apps on any GM. I just plug my phone in and use it.

    That way Google, Verizon, Amazon, Liberty Media, etc. etc. etc. can track my every move and try to sell me stuff instead.

    Wait a minute…

  • avatar
    cognoscenti

    ComScore Networks was founded in July 1999 in Reston, Virginia. That was when the death of privacy accelerated. Currently, privacy is an illusion. No amount of dog and pony show grillings of Zuckerberg by Congress, or click-bait articles such as this one will change that. It’s done already.

    Y’all tin foil hat-wearing posters are barking up the wrong tree by suggesting GM is any different from any other vehicle manufacturer.

    • 0 avatar
      Sub-600

      You believe it was founded in 1999, just like they want you too. It’s actually been in existence since 1947 when it started in New Mexico, where it still is today. The whole “Reston” thing was a red herring for general media consumption. We are not alone.

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