Adverts have been a fact of life for a long time – whether they're printed in a newspaper, displayed on a road-side sign or beamed into the home through a TV or radio.

Despite that the companies leading the sector are anything but stuck in the past – as they continually seek out the latest innovation to attract consumers’ attention.

Unfortunately for us, that usually means more ads invading more of our lives than before.

A lot of people would say all advertising is invasive – so what is 'invasive advertising’?

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It will mean different things to different people – but what it boils down to is whether an ad gets in your way or not.

Of course, we’re surrounded by ads all the time – whether it’s the billboard in the corner of your eye when you walk down the road, or the ad sitting at the side of an article you’re reading on a website.

They’d generally be known as passive adverts.

But when that small online ad suddenly spreads out to take over the entire screen – it becomes invasive or intrusive.

People will have had the same experience from a lot of other digital ads that force you to pay attention or react – like the ads that cut into the middle of a video you’re watching that you can’t click away from.

But invasive ads are also about the increasing number of ads that are popping up in places where we just don’t expect them at all – where we have to suffer through ads where we simply didn’t have to before.

Where is that happening?

One area that’s increasingly falling prey to advertising is the car.

We might expect to see ads outside our car as we drive down the road – or perhaps hear them on the radio while we’re driving. But we wouldn’t expect the car itself to be presenting us with ads, at least until now.

However last year Audi announced a partnership with a company called 4.Screen that will allow it to present adverts to its drivers through the infotainment system in the dashboard.

Ford has a patent on pop-up style ads for its cars, too.

Meanwhile an American company called Telenav, which produces sat-nav systems and works with a number of major car manufacturers, also offers the option of streaming ads to customers while they’re using their car.

How is that safe?

Well if we take the Audi example, the idea there is that the adverts are built into the car’s mapping system.

So if someone is searching for something on the map – which they will hopefully be doing while stationary anyway – one of the options that’s presented to them might be paid-for. Or a location might be made more prominent on the list of results because the company has paid for premium placement.

This is something that already happens with Google Maps, too, so it’s not a new concept.

When it comes to the Telenav system – that's meant to display ads to people when the car is stationary, rather than when they’re driving. But, of course, that could still end up being a distraction to drivers.

The Ford patent, meanwhile, seems to be designed with self-driving cars in mind; so (if and when that technology gets here) there’s little fear of a driver getting distracted.

But what the patent does do is help to highlight the gap between the future we’re often promised by the tech world and the reality.

When advocates talk about driverless technology, they usually talk about people being able to relax while their car takes them where they need to go - maybe you can have a nap, or get some work done.

But clearly the reality is probably going to involve us being blasted with ads while we’re driven around instead.

Why would anyone want a car that kept showing them ads?

Well maybe they won’t have much of a choice.

Some car-makers are already putting features like heated seats behind a subscription – as a way of making money out of owners even beyond the showroom.

So maybe another way of paying for these nice little extras will be through advertising.

Perhaps if you aren’t willing to pay for a service like in-car wifi, or a heated steering wheel, or eventually driverless technology, you’ll have to put up with some extra ads from your car instead.

This kind of ‘subsidised’ approach is already being taken by the king of the subscription model, Netflix.

A big part of its unique selling point until recently was that it was ad-free – but now it’s offering customers in some countries a discounted price plan if they are willing to watch ads between episodes.

Disney is following suit with a similar model, too.

But perhaps the car-makers will put ads in there simply because they can – and they’ll just hope that people will learn to accept them.

We saw that with TVs a few years ago – when certain brands put ads into their Smart TVs, above and beyond the regular ads that people would see on a channel.

There was a backlash against that, and thankfully it’s not something that’s become a standard feature – but it’s clear that companies are always on the look-out for an opportunity to put more ads in front of people if they can get away with it.

So this kind of thing is happening beyond our cars?

Absolutely.

People are likely used to seeing digital billboards on road-sides and at bus stops, for example.

Now they’re probably just taking the place of an old-fashioned print ad – so advertisers would argue they’re just more of the same.

But as they’re big LED screens, they are a lot brighter, and they might have moving images too – so they’re far more intrusive than a static image on paper.

And increasingly advertisers are pairing these ads with other types of technology to make them even more valuable.

For example some have sensors attached to detect how many people or cars are passing by through the day – which tells you how many people got exposed to the message.

Or in some cases advertisers are using facial recognition technology to identify when people are looking at the ad – and even go so far to try to work out their gender, and age-range, and even their mood...

And that can then be used to try to serve up targeted ads that would be seen to be of interest to that demographic.

Is that happening in Ireland?

Probably not – at the moment at least.

Thankfully GDPR rules make it quite hard for private companies to use this kind of facial recognition in public places.

That’s because scanning someone’s face, or their body, is classed as processing their biometric data – and you need explicit consent from people to do that. Just having a small sign up nearby saying ‘facial recognition technology in use’ isn’t good enough.

And under GDPR you’d also need to be able to give people access to whatever data you have on them – which would be very hard to do if you’ve just taken a scan of their face in a shopping centre, but don’t know anything else about them.

So thankfully that kind of invasive advertising isn’t something we should be too worried about in Ireland – but that’s not to say that we should relax too much about advertisers using our private information in order to target ads at us.

Why is that?

Well people will probably be familiar with how online ads work now – and how what you search for in one place can often influence the ads that we see in another place.

And online advertisers are trying to compile as much of your information as possible to get a full picture of who you are – so they know what they can sell you.

But this is increasingly going beyond our online worlds - because our devices can also be used to influence the ads that are put in front of us in the real world.

People might not realise it but their smartphones are set to send out little signals all the time – essentially looking to see what other devices are nearby, and letting those other devices know that it’s there.

And if you’re in the likes of a shopping centre that might be interacting with what are called beacons – which are tiny little devices designed to spot and respond to the devices it comes into contact with.

What kind of information is being shared?

They’re not giving away all of your private data, or anything like that. It’s relatively basic.

And it should be said that these little signals can be useful to people.

Those beacons can help you to narrow down your exact location, which GPS often struggles to do when you’re indoors, which can be handy in a shopping centre when you’re struggling to find the shop you want.

But even a small amount of information can be useful to an advertiser trying to learn more about you; even the phone you’re using can say a lot about you.

Generally speaking there’s a certain type of person who would have the latest, top-of-the-range iPhone, compared to someone who has a five year old, basic Android device.

And even though there isn’t much information being shared - depending on what settings you have on your phone, and what permissions you’ve given in the device itself, that signal can then be used by companies to target information at you on the phone itself.

That might mean your phone spots that you’re in or near a shop that you have an app for, and puts that right in your lock screen so it’s easy to open.

But it may also mean that the app in question presents you with a special promotional offer through your phone – as an attempt to draw you in to spend.

And that’s essentially like dropping an ad into your device – which can be very unwelcome.

Can people disable this feature?

Yes – it is relatively easy to do so – but just turning off your Bluetooth won’t necessarily be enough, so you might need to dig around in settings.

What you’re looking for is usually called Bluetooth Scanning – there is also Wi-Fi Scanning which has a similar function – and it should be possible to turn these off on your device.

One warning is that doing so may limit some functions like easily being able to share things someone next to you. Apple has a feature called AirDrop that some might know of, and that uses this kind of ‘scanning’ connection to help you find the phone of a nearby user.

On the plus side, though, disabling it should mean you get a little bit more battery life out of your device.

And in general it’s worth doing a regular check of the location and privacy settings on your phone to see what apps have access to what information... because you may well find that you’re sharing more than you need to or than you even realise.

Maybe you gave it permission to see your location once and then forgot to go back and disable it, or you unintentionally gave it access to something in the first place.

Either way, it’s always good to go in and lock down your settings as much as you can in order to try to reduce the amount of data you’re handing over to companies and advertisers.