Billboard Big Brother?

Not-so-private concern


The United Kingdom's Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency has been selling access to its database for commercial purposes. Most recently, it helped Castrol Motor Oil with an ad campaign.

Castrol spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a two-week campaign that relied on technologies used to identify individual vehicles. A camera snapped pictures of license tags as they passed by. The license numbers were then cross-referenced with government records. Then, a few hundred feet down the road, a sign would flash the oil grade and quality that the vehicle's owner should be using in his car.

The billboard prompted inquiries into how the oil manufacturer came by the valuable vehicle information. The London Mail on Sunday found that the licensing agency has a habit of letting private companies use names, vehicle makes, and other data for billing and marketing purposes despite bans on such practices. During the last five years, according to, the agency has received $16.3 million for selling personal information about more than 6 million vehicle owners.