Posted on
August 13th, 2013

Smartphone tracking bins called to a stop by City of London

Following concerns raised by the privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch, a company that has recently installed ‘tracking devices’ into recycling bins in London to track the smartphones of people passing by has been asked by The City of London Corporation to stop.

The company – Renew London – has installed the devices into 12 ‘pods’ in the capital. The pods, which feature LCD advertising screens, were recording footfall data by logging the smartphones that passed nearby.
The bins, located in the Cheapside area of central London, log the MAC (media access control) address of smartphones.

Renew London has referred the matter to the information Commissioner’s Office, however, Chief Executive Kaveh Memari confirmed that the company had “stopped all trials in the meantime”.

Mr Memari said the devices had only recorded “extremely limited, encrypted, aggregated and anonymised data” and that the data was “only being used to monitor footfall locally, in a similar way as a web page monitors traffic.

A City of London Corporation spokesman said “irrespective of what’s technically possible, anything that happens like this on the streets needs to be done carefully, with the backing of an informed public”
Director of Big Brother Watch, Nick Pickles, said “I am please the City of London has called a halt to this scheme, but questions need to be asked about how such a blatant attack on people’s privacy was able to occur in the first place.

“Systems like this highlight how technology has made tracking us much easier, and in the rush to generate data and revenue there is not enough of a deterrent for people to stop and ensure that people are asked to give their consent before any data is collected.”

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