General Motors collected location & radio listening habits data of 90,000 drivers

General Motors collected location & radio listening habits data of 90,000 drivers

The listening habits of around 90,000 drivers of General Motors in Chicago and Los Angeles were monitored by the company for three months in 2017 under its radio-tracking program.

The Detroit Free Press reported later released a report that General Motors was involved in targeted advertising in cars. Now the company has publicly admitted that it is collecting data and trying to use Telemetics data intelligently.


According to their report, General Motors records even the smallest details of the drivers including the favorite station, ZIP codes of vehicle owners, and volume level, etc. The built-in Wi-Fi signal is used for uploading the acquired data to its servers.

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It seems like the motive behind this data capturing was to identify the correlation between what the drivers preferred to listen to and what they buy, and then the company sold this data to radio operators and advertisers. General Motors had become too specific in its tracking tactics; it even tracked a driver’s listening preferences while he was taking a break at a Tim Horton’s restaurant.

Unlike Toyota that promised to not collect and sell telematics data, General Motors is quite keen on doing so publicly. In his presentation to the Association of National Advertisers in Sep 2017, the global digital transformation director of General Motors Saejin Park explained the way the company secretly exfiltrated data about the radio-listening habits of the drivers in LA and Chicago from the cars.

However, the company maintains that the data was never sold. The presentation, probably, was delivered to advertising bigwigs in an expectation to elicit bids for the data. Saejin Park also claimed that by matching the audio feeds from the digitally driven XM radio, AM and FM, the company aim to study the link between consumer behavior and radio cues.

“We can tell if they listened to it to the end. Or, in the middle of the commercial, did they change it to another station?” said Park. “We sampled (the behavior) every minute just because we could.”

But, this is a completely theoretical concept as of now; the data hasn’t been licensed but it is believed, says company spokesperson James Caine, this data can help develop precise ways to measure radio listenership. This could be useful for the regional radio industry that is continually losing its grip. Moreover, it can also help digital streaming services like Spotify and YouTube to increase profits.

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“Our proof of concept has generated interest in the advertising and broadcast communities. But we don’t have any new projects to announce at this time,” states Caine.

Presumably, with the kind of data General Motors is collecting, in the future in-car advertising could become highly targeted and in accordance with consumer habits. However, still, this kind of data collection is concerning market research firms.

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