The recycle bins that stalk Londoners

Bins in London are now harvesting data from smartphone owners who walk past.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer on

Have a smartphone with you when walking in central London? Seemingly innocent recycle bins may record your movements in the name of advertising.

Startup Renew was behind the installation of 100 smart recycling bins across London just before the 2012 Olympics. The bins -- connected through Wi-Fi -- contain advertising space for purchase, and five percent of the airtime is reserved for the city's use.

In the most recent development, a number of the bins have been outfitted with smartphone-tracking systems.

Described as a way to bring Internet cookies into the physical realm, the bins record unique identification numbers -- otherwise known as MAC addresses -- for phones that have Wi-Fi enabled. This allows the network to detect if a person, with their unique address, is present and has walked the same route before.

On one day in July, over 100,000 people were recorded with their presence being detected almost a million times, according to the technology's developers, Presence Aware.

The idea behind the technology is to tailor advertising. If retailers are sold on the idea, for example, a coffee chain with the devices located in-store could tailor advertising on London's bins accordingly to try and remind you of the brand -- and therefore keep you loyal. The technology may also be able to analyze your habits and detect if you've moved on to another brand.

Renew's CEO Kaveh Memari does not view the technology as intrusive, telling Quartz, "London is the most heavily surveillanced city in the world. As long as we don't add a name and home address, it’s legal." In addition, the CEO published a statement, saying:

"During our current trials, a limited number of pods have been testing and collecting annonymised and aggregated MAC addresses from the street and sending one report every three minutes concerning total footfall data from the sites. A lot of what has been extrapolated is capabilities that could be developed and none of which are workable right now.

It is very much like a website, you can tell how many hits you have had and how many repeat visitors, but we cannot tell who, or anything personal about any of the visitors on the website. So we cannot tell, for example, whether we have seen devices or not as we do not gather any personal details.

Future developments will however not just depend on technology, but also, most importantly, on people being comfortable with interactive technology."

Via: QZ

Image credit: Renew

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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