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Technology in Marketing: Big Brother’s Nosey Little Brother Wants to Sell You a Car

We’ve all heard of “Big Brother”, but I’ll bet you’ve never heard of “The Five Eyes Alliance”. The Five Eyes Alliance is a global surveillance alliance of the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand basically comprising the english speaking countries, all of whom regularly share intelligence on bad guys as well as their own citizenry. The technology used is astounding. You can be spied on by kitchen appliances, cell phones, your own car, televisions, satellites, computers, copy machines, and drones from the size of a fingernail to the size of a small plane.

Your respective government isn’t the only Big Brother gathering intelligence on you. It has a Little Brother flourishing in the private sector and providing most - if not all of it’s "spying toys" .

Marketing companies have long been gathering data on the consumer and things have certainly come a long way from the days of taking simple surveys. Let’s say you want to buy a car and have decided to browse a local car dealer’s website. You see a few cars you like, spend a few long seconds checking them out and then you move onto another dealer or listing site such as Autotrader, Cargurus, Cars.com or newcomer Usedcarsforsale.com . The tracking of your online behavior didn’t began at site one. It’s been tracked since the very first tracking code was dropped on you most likely many years ago. We are all in the Internet’s own version of the Akashic records.

While you peruse the dealer or listing site, analysis takes place at the speed of light and you’ll soon be fed what are called conquest and/or retargeting ads based on the specific model(s) you’re viewing. These “programmatic” ads will contain similar makes and models based on the thousands of affinity group(s) you’ve been placed in, inventory availability, and/or the behavior you’ve exhibited. Those ads will continue to be served to you across channels and platforms all the while gathering more and more information on you as you surf across the web in search of that new or used car. If you never click a specific vehicle, AI can detect which cars you may have interest in by using a heat map that detects which vehicles you hover your mouse over! They can continue to stalk you when you visit another dealer’s website or even stand on their physical lot for that matter. This tracking can restart many months down the road after the ads have stopped being served (capping), triggered by what the technology perceives as renewed interest in buying a car.

“Little Brother” knows virtually everything about you including your browsing history, what kind of pet you have, how old you are, what your annual income is, what your buying habits are, where you live, your entertainment interests, education level, and oh ya, what kind of car you’re now shopping for (let alone the one you currently drive). As you go from site to site, they drop more tracking code on you, some innocent, some nefarious, and some intent on simply collecting info on you to be sold without your permission to an entity who wants to market a product to you, or you as a data set. Even apps are spying on you.

Little Brother can find you whenever it wants to and knows where every single one of us lives and works. Big Brother gets most of it’s technology from Little Brother which comes as no surprise to anyone working in tech in the private sector. The technology set used to match you with a new Camaro or Prius comes from the same private sector that tracks you on social media pages and listens to your phone calls via Skype, VOIP, or your television. The private sector simply repurposes its technology to accommodate it’s buyer, whoever that may be. It’s not just chips and other physical technology that gathers marketing data on you.

What's that ringing in my ear?

Marketers have been experimenting with web-based and sonic technology to track consumers utilizing audio signals your phone can hear, but you cannot. It’s basically the same guys providing this mechanism that also create sonic weapons to disburse unruly crowds, unwanted intruders and render enemies of the state...mysteriously ill.

The technology, called “ultrasonic cross-device tracking”, embeds high-frequency tones that are inaudible to humans in advertisements, web pages, and even physical locations like car dealer lots. Ultrasonic beacons emit audio sequences with speakers, and almost any device microphone (like those accessed by an app on a smartphone or tablet) can detect the signal and start to put together a picture of what ads you've seen, what sites you've perused, and even where you've been. As far as I know, this technology hasn’t made it’s way to Galpin Ford or even South Philly Auto Sales for that matter.

For those dealers who embrace the available and emerging technology, an ever-widening revenue rift will develop between them and the dealerships less likely to evolve along the same lines.

Here are a few examples of the amazing technology available to dealers and Big Bro’ in the here and now. Any resemblance between this technology and the technology used to spy on us by Big Brother is purely intentional.

DealerX Jeff Tognetti Product Development Leader

Perhaps one of the most knowledgeable and advanced technologists in the automotive industry, the DealerX Conquest Retargeting platform is the answer to Google Adwords increasing costs and diminishing returns. First, they buy the “Anonymous IDs” (us) and vehicle browsing data of the shoppers who have visited your competitors’ websites. Next, they target these IDs (us) with display and video ads of the dealer’s inventory matched to what was browsed while on the competitor’s website in real-time across thousands of websites, Facebook, Instagram and SnapChat on their PC, Tablet or Mobile Device. They can even pull your email address once you’ve been on one of their client’s websites without you ever volunteering it. They can even generate direct mail pieces based on those who have visited the dealer site by matching data bases that unmask actual physical addresses of each site visitor but not their actual name. They can get so deep into a specific consumer’s data that they can see which websites that consumer visits, regardless of the nature of those sites!

Autoflyte Steve W. Leh CEO

Near Real-Time Insights

With Urban Science’s daily sales data based on yesterday’s RDRs, not registration data from 60-90 days ago, we can tell you as of yesterday exactly what all of the dealer’s sold and we can track (by device ID) the journey each customer is taking as they visit dealer sites and lots, feeding them ads all along the way based on where they are in the sales funnel. AUTOFLYTE can reveal your competitors’ media strategy, their creatives, and even their inventory levels and pricing. The data trail behind every sale allows us to provide full-funnel attribution showing the entire customer journey from online interactions and traditional media touch points to calls, showroom visits, service appointments, defections and other offline data.

Car Tapping by the Government

Virtually any device that can be connected to the Internet in a vehicle can be tapped and turned into a surveillance tool for law enforcement on any number of levels. There are several examples whereby technology originally developed for benign purposes was “re-purposed” for solving murders, busting drug dealers, etc.

For those who were surveilled via their vehicle, as in the case of OnStar subscriber and suspected drug dealer Riley Dantzler, lawyers argued for the evidence to be thrown out. In the case of Dantzler, the surveillance crossed state boundaries and became a jurisdictional issue as well as a fourth amendment challenge whereby the defendant had a reasonable expectation of privacy. Which begs the question, do consumers not have a reasonable expectation of privacy even in the case of gathering marketing data for something as innocent as a car purchase?

In another case, lawyers argued not only for a right to privacy, but that police had no authority under any statute to use a third-party's factory-installed GPS as a tracking device. They claimed "The statute is silent as to the authority of the government to use a third-party product in lieu of physically installing a device of their own.”

"Allowing this type of intrusion is a leap the court should not be willing to make. Authorizing OnStar agents to activate the system within a suspect’s car renders statutory authority null. It effectively makes every single General Motors vehicle and every OnStar service representative an agent of the government."

In the name of progress (and greed), we’ve all become targets of data mining and data tapping in order to influence our behavior as consumers. It’s a concerted effort by marketers and technologists alike to better understand how we operate as “data sets” and how to control and apply that information to create more predictable outcomes. Still, we all need to understand that the technology to spy and get possession of privileged information is easily available to private citizens and usurping technologists as well...not just governments. It’s common knowledge that Big Brother is watching all of us, in every way possible, all of the time. His Little Brother in the public sector may be less threatening, less spooky, even less understood, but let there be no doubt, he’s watching every move you make, every minute of the day, and if all goes to plan, he’ll soon have the entire Five Eyes Alliance in a new Toyota with nothing down at a monthly price they can all afford.

Kelly Kleinman