Tuesday, July 25, 2006
Please Enter Your License Plate Number in the Box...
As if people aren't skittish enough about providing their email address to businesses for marketing purposes, imagine a future where your license plate number is just as sought after. It seems that may not be so far off: Wired News says the same infrared license plate reading (LPR) technology used by the police to read the plates of crime suspects is poised to enter the private sector and become a tool to track individual motorists' comings and goings.
Privacy concerns aside, this has interesting implications for business marketers who one day will not only be able to purchase the hardware but gain access to the databases linking a plate number to a specific person and (presumably) tailor messages and offers to them based on their driving behavior. The article says Andy Bucholz of G2 Tactics, one of the designers of the technology, believes LPR will be instrumental in everything from "helping insurance companies find missing cars to letting retail chains chart customer migrations."[my emphasis]
Wow. Such an application would enable the ultimate in behavioral targeting — after watching customer driving behavior for a bit, computer algorithms a la Amazon's Recommendations might send a personalized offer to a store in advance of my arrival (of course welcoming me with the appropriate amount of fanfare as an LPR scans my plate upon pulling into the parking lot!). Who knows? Some might even use it to try to stop me from visiting a competing store. Consumer applications seem a little more obvious. How business-to-business marketers might find use for it are still murky.
But even if yet-to-be drafted privacy laws prevent marketers from buying access to truly personal data or companies from misusing the tech to spy on employees, the $US 25,000 price tag for G2's PlateFinder won't stop someone from buying a few to place in key locations and start building their own database of prospects to track based on license plate numbers instead of anonymous web cookies. Funny that we may soon be able to use technology to provide relevant, targeted marketing messages even to the Luddites who refuse to use the Internet.