Add the Mini Cooper automobile to the list of Ministries governed by George Orwell's <i>Big Brother</i>. In the classic dystopia <i>1984</i>, the nation of Oceania had four main divisions: Minipax, Miniplenty, Minitrue, Miniluv -- short for the Ministries of Peace, Plenty, Truth, and Love, respectively. Let's consider the Mini Cooper as Ministry No. 5.

Michael Singer, Contributor

February 2, 2007

2 Min Read

Add the Mini Cooper automobile to the list of Ministries governed by George Orwell's Big Brother. In the classic dystopia 1984, the nation of Oceania had four main divisions: Minipax, Miniplenty, Minitrue, Miniluv -- short for the Ministries of Peace, Plenty, Truth, and Love, respectively. Let's consider the Mini Cooper as Ministry No. 5.I was cruising down my boulevard the other day when NPR reported a shocker. It seems that BMW's cult-like Mini division is sending some of its drivers RFID key chains that allow specially-designed digital billboards to read the car owner's information and broadcast personalized messages to those drivers.

Imagine driving down the highway and the whole world sees, "NICE ROOF GRAPHIC, ROGER SMITH!" Now, I would die of embarrassment right there.

BMW initially installed these billboards in four places: in Chicago, I-294 near the O'Hare airport; Miami on the Palmetto Expressway; New York, just before the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel on 10th Ave and 30th; and in San Francisco, just before you get on the Bay Bridge.

Not being a Mini driver -- but certainly paranoid and driving in San Francisco -- I start looking around to see if any of the billboards I pass by are announcing that my car could use an oil change, a car wash, and perhaps a new set of tires. Thankfully, none of them did so.

What also got me was that RFID, in Mini marketing-speak, stands for "Really Fun Interactive Devices." In reality, it's radio frequency identification, a wireless AIDC system better suited for supply chains and national security than a drive on the interstate.

Some press outlets are drawing comparisons between the Mini/RFID rollout and the Tom Cruise futuristic movie . Get over it. It's not even original. This kind of interaction between car and advertiser has been around for about five years. Alaris Media Network and Mobiltrak got together back in 2002 and set up a system where video billboards would change their ads based on what radio stations drivers had playing as they drove by. The companies said it gathered the information based on the most prominent radio signal and then would look up its databank of information about the people who typically listen to those stations. At the time, the companies said they had little control over what stations that drivers were tuned into. Somehow, I bet these are the same kind of people who are paid to debunk global warming. Any way you slice it, this is some freaky stuff. It's bad enough that we have advertising permeating our entire fabric of Time (Warner), (My)Space and (Miramax movie house) Dimension (Films)... sorry about that. But now, advertisers are embarking on a social pressure that I'm not sure we're ready for. Pass the chamois, I have to wash my car.

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