Google may be about to pair all that data it has on users’ web browsing with the ads displayed on public billboards. Creepy? Maybe. Inevitable? Almost certainly.

The Alphabet Inc. unit is in talks in Germany about pushing into out-of-home advertising – billboards in stations, shopping centers and shop windows – according to WirtschaftsWoche. The move would be a precursor to similar expansion in the U.S. and the U.K., the magazine said.

That’s unlikely to mean that a Google search for underwear as a gift for your partner will pop Calvin Klein ads on the digital billboard when you sit down at a bus stop. You can leave your copy of 1984 on the bookshelf for now.

But it could mean that, when a train full of Borussia Dortmund fans arrives at Munich’s main station ahead of the Bayern Munich fixture, the advertising hoarding changes to show soccer cleats or beer, while on a Monday morning at rush hour it displays BMW ads for well-to-do commuters.

Google has been testing programmatic ad technology (in which trading algorithms bid against each other to secure digital space based on the target audience) for billboards since at least 2015. The technology is currently restricted mainly to web ads: Because Google, Facebook Inc. and others are able to track users’ browsing behavior, they are better able to target publicity at them.

Silicon Supremacy

Facebook and Google get a quarter of all global ad dollars, up from 9 percent in 2012

Source: WARC

Because of Google’s dominant position in mobile operating systems – Android runs on three-quarters of all the phones in Europe – it is also able to track users’ locations. Privacy concerns mean it’s unlikely to be able to target out-of-home ads at individuals, but it can pull demographic data on what kinds of people are in a given place at a given time.

Using cellular data for advertising hoardings isn’t new: Carriers such as BT Group Plc already sell data to advertisers. Liberum analysts Annick Maas and Ian Whittaker meanwhile estimate that automation of digital-billboard purchasing could boost earnings at JCDecaux SA and Stroeer SE by as much as 66 percent.




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