Hidden cameras in Dutch advertisement billboards at NS train stations can see you
Smart digital billboards placed in NS stations in the Netherlands record whether passersby look at them and for how long. This is done with the help of cameras, which are built into the billboards. The software programme used in conjunction with the cameras can tell whether a person is male or female and it can determine their age as well.
The information gathered by the billboards allows the advertisers to see whether a specific billboard is particularly important for them or not.
Where can you find these digital billboards in the Netherlands?
There are around 30-35 billboards situated at Dutch train stations operating the same camera and software combination. These can be found at stations in the cities of Eindhoven, Rotterdam and Amsterdam, amongst others. However, the digital advertisement billboards are not only present at Dutch train stations, they can also be found on the street.
There are some 700 billboards in total, but not all of them are switched on, as the software to analyse the information they record is expensive.
Are the cameras legal?
The legality of the cameras is unclear. The Dutch Data Protection Authority (AP) states that cameras in public places, which are used for commercial purposes, are not permitted. However, Exterion, the advertising company who owns the advertising billboards, insists that the billboards wholly comply with the law. The data collected by the billboards does not allow for a person to be recognised and the images are not stored.
Whether the data collected is legal or not depends on a technicality - whether the data is kept briefly before it is anonymised. An investigation will be needed to look into what the software does exactly before it can be determined whether the use of the cameras in the smart billboards constitutes a violation of the law.
Organisations such as the interest group The Society for Better Public Transport are not pleased and call for NS to stop recording passengers. Civil liberties organisation Bits of Freedom is also not happy with the situation, as passengers are not given the option to opt out.