Recycling bins using Wi-Fi to track smartphones

Recycling bins equipped with Wi-Fi have become the latest devices derided for invading people's privacy. A London startup called Renew is using a dozen such bins to identify passing smartphones in certain parts of London.

Prior to the 2012 Olympic Games, Renew installed 100 of the recycling bins, which also feature advertising screens, in London's financial district. Since then, 12 of the bins were fitted with Wi-Fi tracking technology that can use the MAC address on individual smartphones to grab a bevy of information, including device proximity, speed, duration and manufacturer, according to GigaOM.  

The geolocation data can then be sold to brand advertisers for use in designing localized advertising campaigns. Such location-aware advertising is becoming a hot commodity among marketers, but privacy advocates are concerned that such information gathering violates the privacy of mobile device users, who may have no idea that their smarphone has divulged so much information regarding its, and ultimately their, whereabouts.

Presence Orb is the company providing analytics and reporting of the data. Though it has an online opt-out form for individuals who do not want their phone information gathered and sold, GigaOM notes that legally Presence Org should be providing an opt-in, rather than opt-out, process.

That's because the Article 29 Working Party, a group of European data protection regulators, declared back in 2011 that "the combination of the unique MAC address and the calculated location of a Wi-Fi access point should be treated as personal data," and personal data is not supposed to be captured unless a user's explicit permission has been provided.

For now, however, it appears certain London recycling bins will continue recycling considerably more than just unwanted rubbish.

For more:
- see this GigaOM article

Related articles:
Location-aware ad firm expanding to 6,600 U.S. convenience stores
Facebook tests free Wi-Fi for retailer check-ins
FTC to Apple, Google: Apps for kids must disclose data privacy practices
Are geolocation apps a novelty or the next big trend?

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