License Plate Geo-Tracking: We Know Where You’ve Been

November 14, 2012  - By
Janice Partyka

Janice Partyka

It’s all about knowing where people are located. The government and private companies are taking hundreds of millions of geo-coded photos of license plates creating huge databases of where you’ve been. Meanwhile, hyper local mobile ads don’t work when ad networks sometimes receive grossly inaccurate locations of targeted consumers. Xad has developed a way to evaluate and score the accuracy of location positions they get from publishers. Also, mobile ad spending may reach $2.6 billion by year’s end, and Nokia is fighting back against rivals with a new mapping solution for Apple users and automating 3D mapping collection through a purchase of Earthmine. Keep reading for details.

License Plate Snapshots. There hasn’t been much of an outcry over privacy from a huge location tracking operation that doesn’t require consent of the subject. Hundreds of millions of geo-coded photos are being taken of license plates throughout the country. These databases are being created by private companies and the government who use vehicle-mounted cameras. Records include a photo of the vehicle, license plate numbers/letters, time and location. Over two years the Riverside California police have collect two million unique license plate pictures using 49 camera-equipped vehicles. A citizen filed a California Public Record Act request and received a report containing 112 images of his cars. In some of the pictures he can identify car occupants and even the clothes they are wearing.

Private companies that started photographing license plates were initially in the business of repossessing vehicles. With a mounted license plate camera, they drive as many miles as possible through back alleys, parking lots and streets. An alert sounds when a license plate matches the repossession database. Some of these companies are evolving to focusing solely on license plate data collection and have gathered hundreds of millions of photographs. One of the companies, MVTrac , claims to have geo-coded photos of the majority of U.S. registered vehicles.

The data can be used for ill purposes. It can show who may be present at a political gathering, parked at a rehab center, or located at a cancer treatment center. In 1998 a police officer in Washington D.C. pled guilty for extorting owners of vehicles parked at a gay bar. The databases will grow. The Department of Homeland Security has provided more than $50 million in federal grants to police for more cameras.

A Drop in the Advertising Bucket. Advertisers will pay out $2.6 billion for ads on phones and tablets in 2012, predicts eMarketer. This is a small fraction of total ad revenue, less than two percent of advertisers’ overall spend. Yet, mobile ad spending is growing; it is currently triple 2010 spending. The king of mobile advertising is Google, which receives 56 percent of all mobile advertising.

Disparity among Apps. The amount of revenue from mobile advertising varies greatly among applications. Facebook reported 14 percent of its total ad revenue in the third quarter came from mobile. Almost 60 percent of Pandora’s ad revenue came from mobile in the second quarter. Twitter indicates that some days the majority of its ad revenue has come from mobile.

Problematic Location Accuracy. One of the issues of mobile advertising is the accuracy of the mobile user’s location. It is problematic to send a hyper local ad if the ad network receives a grossly inaccurate location position, perhaps a geo-code at the center of a zip code. xAd, a local mobile advertising network, has developed a technology that analyzes the multitude of location signals being passed by each publisher and scores them according to accuracy and performance. “The industry cannot take location signals at face value,” said Chi-Chao Chang of xAd. “What we have found through our SmartLocation technology is that location inputs are often inconsistent on a per ad request basis. In fact, some of these signals are just plain wrong.” As a result, ad campaigns may be running on inventory that is not suitable for granular targeting, resulting in wasted ad impressions and overall lackluster performance.

Automated 3D Mapping. Nokia, fighting to get back to the top of the heap, is acquiring 3D map-technology maker Earthmine and revamping Nokia’s mapping tools to win back customers from its rivals. The company announced a new mapping app for Apple mobile devices and unveiled the new brand name “Here” for its location services and website. Earthmine will provide Nokia with a complete solution for collecting, processing, managing, and hosting 3D street-level imagery. “This will add competitive advantages and increased differentiation to HERE‘s Location Content and Location Platform, sustaining competitiveness in B2B (e.g., data for in-car navigation systems) and drive highly engaging user experiences,” reads a blog on the Nokia website. The company believes that the Earthmine data collection vehicles are massively scalable and expect to be using them in 31 countries next year.

This article is tagged with , and posted in Mobile, Opinions

About the Author: Janice Partyka

Janice Partyka is principal of JGP Services,, a consulting practice that helps companies with marketing strategy, including investigating new markets, ensuring product roadmaps match market needs, and creating marketing campaigns. Janice develops websites, social media, public relations and overall marketing communication. She also works as an expert witness for the mobile industry and conducts prior art searches for patent cases. Janice has served in leadership capacities in the wireless industry, leading marketing, business development, media and government relations, including serving as vice president of external affairs for TechnoCom Corporation. She briefed the Obama transition team on broadband issues. Janice was a twice-elected member of the board of directors of the E9-1-1 Institute, which supports the work of the U.S. Congressional E9-1-1 Caucus to ensure implementation of wireless E9-1-1, and she was telecom liaison to the Intelligent Transportation Society's World Congress. Janice is a frequent speaker at mobile and location industry events. Her webinars on mobile applications and technologies draw audiences from more than 40 countries. Janice Partyka is also the founder of, a web service that helps college students find the right major that will lead to a satisfying career. Contact: Janice Partyka at, Free subscriptions to Wireless LBS Insider are available at