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December 07, 2007

Mindf--ck: A&E ads make New Yorkers hear voices

A&E is literally targeting consumers with hypersonic beams on billboards. The rays broadcast sound in a beam, so the noise is inaudible unless the consumer/victim strays into the target area--in which case they may experience the sound as a voice in their head.

David Giantasio of AdWeek's magazine's blog, AdFreak:

Now, Holosonic Research Labs (sounds like something out of Scanners) strikes some new notes in the urban symphony with a creepy audio outdoor effort for A&E’s Paranormal State. From the release: “People passing by the Manhattan billboard suddenly hear a voice talking to them, but when they take another step the noise is gone. The sound captures their attention and the message appears as though it is just for them.”

Earlier this year, CourtTV used similar technology for a campaign called "Mystery Whisperer":

During the month-long campaign, targeting eleven bookstores and cafes throughout Manhattan, the Audio Spotlight directed more than 100,000 messages to shoppers asking them to tune in to the new Court TV television series.

"Because the message delivered by the Audio Spotlight system is only audible when directly in line with the narrow beam of sound, we were able to capture consumers' attention in a whole new way," said JP Freeley, owner of BlueBlast Media. "We left consumers with a message that resonated instead of one they just walked right past." [Holosonic Press Release, 2007]

Holosonic Research's website offers customers a chance to "put sound where they want it." Great.

The company's PR team has convinced some reporters that this wonderful invention "preserves quiet," which technically it does, on least compared to a megaphone, which broadcasts sound waves in all directions. The ray sends sound to one point, so unless you wander into the beam, you can't hear anything coming from the billboard. None of the gushing media coverage notes that laws against noise pollution preserve quiet even better.

Josh of Gawker got hit by an A&E ray at on Prince St. between Mulberry and Mott. He describes what it was like to literally get shot with an ad for some TV show about ghosts. He was walking along, minding his own business when suddenly he heard a woman's voice in his head saying, "Who's there?"

According to Holoonic, the devices have also been used in libraries and galleries to deliver audio without headphones. I don't know whether people interpret the sound as being inside their head when they are told what to expect.

It's one thing to direct patrons to stand in a particular spot if they want the audio tour. It's totally different, and completely unethical, to bombard unconsenting passers by with unsourced sounds on public sidewalks.

New York needs to ban this nuisance, assuming it isn't already prohibited by existing laws. You can't even put up an outdoor billboard in this city without permission. Corporations should not be allowed to colonize patches of our sidewalks for their stupid brands.


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Saw this in an SF book recently only it happened in a red light district. The character beat the crap out of the guy broadcasting. Standard operating procedure should be to vandalize or beat the crap out of anyone getting "into your head."

I experienced the Paranormal State billboard last week. Intersection of 49th & 9th Ave. It was really no big deal. Didn't sound anything like described above. I saw the posters, then heard a whisper. It was definately directional. I looked up immediately at the source. A speaker box mounted directly above the poster, powered by solar panels. The whisper stopped as I stood looking up at the box. I walked on and heard it go off again behind me (about 10 feet) as some other people walked past it. Looked to me like a simple Radio Shack project with a motion sensor. I'm glad it was just a whisper. Anything louder would have pissed me off.

Feed your head.

This focused sound projection technology was high lighted a few years ago in all the techie niche sites. At that time the audio quality was not real good. One wouldn't want to use it for music. I can't tell from the reports if they have improved the broadcast. In an over all sense the technique doesn't fit well with advertising. It has uses for projecting to a person in a crowd who has no portable device like an ipod to pick up wireless communications. Or perhaps to get past their headphones. I agree with Lindsay, limiting advertising outdoors is a great public good.

Squidink above mentions things like face recognition and fast id recall might go toward more tailored ads which further the potential abuse. More likely not so much ads but public information might become a very big industry over time. How do we receive public information? What ought to be in a location defining community. The modern urban landscape is full of these pithy signs about speed limits, town names, and so on. Clutter and history are big parts of this scenario. We can pretty much over time get rid of outdoor signs when people have mobile display devices that can show information tied to a location. Conceptually outdoor signage has very limited content possibilities. Whereas wireless displays can do a great deal more.

This may seem like a pretty abstract idea, but a culture often has a great deal of history in a spot it wants to share with citizens. Not just laws, but many things of community that have not really been possible before. We tend to see privacy issues about public communication when community issues are the ones needing definition. The lack of knowing the community in big cities makes the big city free in some ways so people can develop themselves in ways small towns repress. But the lack of community isolates as well. This ability to meet needs of people to connect is not well understood, but what these tools lead us to consider. I think it wide open. We must find what is good and get started reforming the landscape. Take down signs everywhere, make wireless communications ubiquitous, but regulated against abuse.

If this is illegal we should look it up now and if it's not then I personally as you should all who are against this should do something about it. This can't keep happening any more. I don't want to curse but it's BS. Plain and simple they advertise that it keeps the sound where people want it. Well I don't want it in my f-n head. Did they ask me? No they just assumed. I find it illegal and can't wait for People of New York to Sue these idiots, for invasion of privacy and the list goes on!

Hi, now we have some more evidence of the capability to commit devastating crimes, such as the provocation of the Virgina tech massacre. This evidence stems from the existence of ultrasound projectors in use in NY. In Manhattan there is a A&E advertisement / billboard that uses "audio spotlight" to transmit sound in this way. It is being "glamorized" by BOSE, Joseph Pompei, and most likely The Walt Disney Company. PLEASE PLEASE contact the federal trade commission and the FBI about the crimes revolving around these weapons. I have recordings of this weapon at and I assure you that this weapon was meant to drive me into suicide as it was pointed at my house (and still is) for over 3 years now. I have received transmissions of everything from death threats to gay pornography, and terrorist threats. Please Help. If the FBI continues to cover this up, we must take it upon ourselves to educate the public and our children.

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