Do you use Waze? Billboards are spying on you.

Originally posted March 7, 2019

It’s not only digital billboards that can collect information from passing drivers. Old-fashioned static signs too are already being linked to the smartphones of passing drivers.

If you are using Waze and you pass a “Geo-fenced” billboard, that billboard will send its graphic content to your smartphone screen, duplicating the billboard’s message, and suggest that you go to the nearest branch of the business advertised. No, we are not making this up! It is being done on a trial basis in Southern California already, a partnership between Waze and McDonald’s. 

Here’s how it works:  You stop for more than 4 seconds at a traffic light near a McDonald’s billboard, and the billboard content appears at the top of your Waze screen, together with directions to the nearest McDonald’s.

It’s making money for the company. During a two-month period last year, 1.9 million unique users passed these Geo-fenced billboards in SoCal, and 8,400 people actually clicked on the duplicated billboard on their screen, changed their destination, and drove to a McDonald’s.

This makes driving more dangerous for all of us. This app is causing thousands of people every day to look even longer at their cell phones while they’re driving.

The service is called Zero-Speed Takeover. It’s one of the many methods that Waze uses to integrate ads into your driving experience, along with arrows, pins, and promoted searches.

It’s yet another reason to oppose billboards along any roadside.