Land Rover spams my phone in Times Square

I was in Times Square this weekend, and wandered by a giant Land Rover billboard.

The billboard said "Make your Bluetooth handset discoverable and get the whole story now?" The statement was vague but intriguing, which I guess was its intent, and so I pulled out my Treo. And discovered that it was already in the process of downloading something from Land Rover, which was apparently using some sort of Bluetooth broadcasting technology to bombard everyone in the environs.

Land Rover was able to start transferring data to my phone without my explicit permission because I'd left it on the "Discoverable" setting, meaning that other nearby Bluetooth devices were able to detect its presence. I guess I'd been lulled into not looking at this as a security issue because hookups of two Bluetooth devices normally require a pairing process that requires human intervention, even though I know of the hackish prank known as Bluejacking. But it hadn't dawned on me that a discoverable phone could be discovered by an advertising broadcast.

Anyhow, once the Land Rover download had completed, my Treo asked me if I wanted to accept it. I did, and found it was a tiny video with dim audio--which, especially in Times Square, was too puny to make much of an impression.

But the experience did leave me annoyed...and philosophical. Is there any circumstance under which it's kosher for a legit company (Land Rover is, by the way, part of Ford) to transfer video onto the phones of people who happen to wander by its billboard? Does the fact that you have to accept the video once it's downloaded--at least on my phone--make this OK? If you leave your phone set to be discoverable, are you basically asking for it? Did whoever came up with Bluetooth's discoverable setting design it to be used in this way? Could a malicious person use the same techniques that Land Rover did to mess up phones?

If I'd managed not to see the Land Rover billboard--a perfectly plausible possibility--I would have been confronted by my Treo's message later, whenever I next used my phone. Given that the message on the Treo didn't make clear that it was an ad, or that it involved video, I'd probably have been utterly mystified, and maybe worried that I'd been hacked. Seems to me that that in itself is reason enough to make this a bad idea.

Land Rover, it seems to me, could have avoided irritating any prospective customers by doing its phone advertising via some system that involved interested passers-by sending an SMS message and receiving an ad in return.

Before anybody brings it up: Yup, the ads on PCWorld.com can be annoying, too. But you see them when you've chosen to visit our site--and with this Land Rover ad, all I'd chosen to do was to be in the proximity of a billboard with my phone on a particular setting.

Your thoughts?

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Harry McCracken

PC World
Show Comments

Cool Tech

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?