With the increase in smart car apps to track gas usage and driving habits, it was only a matter of time before one of these apps used that tracking for somewhat invasive advertising. Dash Labs is the latest start-up to take advantage of the on-board diagnostics systems required in all cars made after 1996. Their Dash reader plugs into the 16-pin connector to the car's electronics that is generally used by mechanics and inspectors to figure out why the engine light is on. Their reader, thoug, connects to a smartphone app that they bill as "Fitbit for your car," diagnosing car problems and unsafe driving habits. There all sorts of benefits — Dash won an Energy Department contest for its potential to improve vehicle safety and gas efficiency — but the normal gravitational pull of commercial app development has pushed the company to think about how all the data it collects can be used to serve ads.
So far, Dash Labs has siphoned 15 million data points, just from a "small number of closed beta participants," according to Advertising Age's Kate Kaye. "Each time a Dash user starts her car, the app begins harvesting data that can be transferred from the device to her phone via Bluetooth or WiFi connections," she explains. Location data, for example, can then be used by gas stations or other retailers to push out relevant ads. Oh, you drive by that Taco Bell every day, maybe you want to try a Doritos Loco taco? Or a billboard network might use the data to improve its road-side ads, explained Dash Labs CEO Jamyn Edis. Most likely, Dash will sell these data sets to other car related companies, like Experian or Equifax, to use for their advertising.
This app joins a growing number of Internet companies tracking our offline behavior for advertising purposes. Facebook has started incorporating our drug store data for more relevant sponsored posts; department stores tap into our WiFi connections to track our in-store shopping habits. In theory, it's not much different than the browser cookies following us around the Internet, making sure those Piperlime ads show up on every website we visit. But, the reality can be jarring because of expectations. Location tracking in particular can feel spooky. Progressive, which has a similar smart-car app, specifically doesn't incorporate GPS into its app.
Location, it seems, isn't going away, with Foursquare's founder and CEO, Dennis Crowley, acting as one of the advisers for Dash. So, get ready for pop-up notifications for that drug store you pass on your way home, or for billboards that know exactly what you want. Of course, like all the offline data collected and sold today, the thing safeguarding privacy is that "the data Dash provides would be aggregated without including personally-identifiable information unless a user opts-in to exchange personal data for more targeted offers," notes Kaye. Dash may not know who you are, it just feels that way.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.