Company halts bin spying program after public outcry

Londoners can stop worrying about a "privacy invading" bin, after Renew announced it will cease operations.

An advertising firm that used high-tech “smart bins” which could track smartphones, has been forced to stop harvesting information after pressure from officials and the public.

“Smart” bins, which were installed throughout the City of London - the city's main financial district - were able to track pedestrian’s smartphones information. It is believed the information acquired could possibly screen appropriate advertisements to passers-by. 

However, London based company Renew decided to pull the plug on the campaign after the City of London Corporation demanded it should cease operations as it could potentially “attack people’s privacy”. This decision also comes after mounting pressure and concerns from the general public.

Renew CEO Keveh Memari said in a statement that it "no longer conducts the tests". He adds Londoners will be better informed on future projects.

Future developments will, however, not just depend on technology, but also, most importantly, on people being comfortable with interactive technology. This has always and continues to be Renew’s key concern. We wish to provide a functioning domestic service for the City of London and its inhabitants.

Renew’s announcement comes as a relief to the public and authorities alike, as Nick Pebbles from Big Brother Watch states: “I am pleased 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.”

In the meanwhile, it seems Londoners can stop worrying about a "privacy invading bin". That is, until another company comes up with another quirky idea.

Source & Image: Renew

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27 Comments

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I thought adverts were to cover the cost of services provided?? Things like that are just blatantly making money from peoples data. If a company wants to collect my data they should have to PAY ME for it.

I think it was a great idea.. As long as you can opt out I see no reason to nix it. Hopefully they can work it out so all can be happy with it and done in a way that is not deemed intrusive.

I guess it all depends on what frequency of the EM radiation coming from you a device picks up in public? Light is okay yet RF is bad? Does it really make sense to have a reasonable expectation of privacy when you're broadcasting?

The thing about privacy is - f*k it, let them spy, because they're going to do it anyway, as we can see all too well. But please be upfront about all of it!

The media and general populous need to calm down with the privacy stuff now because advancements like this being halted is just stopping progression.

Collecting MAC keys does not reveal who you are, what sex you are, what color skin, what you're doing or even in which direction walking. All it knows is how much the same person walked by each bin. Is that a problem when you've got CCTV doing the same thing but with the difference that it knows everything about your appearance and intention and where you're actually going?

It tracks behavior too, an example was if you visit McD everyday you'll be shown related ads as you walk past on your daily journey.

Neobond said,
It tracks behavior too, an example was if you visit McD everyday you'll be shown related ads as you walk past on your daily journey.

The only way it could possibly do this would be to have the bins inside the McD's. The system only collects your MAC code so all it can do is recognize how many times that same person has walked past that bin and other smart bins, so it just knows which retailers you'll see on your journey at the most. The example you posted is a prime example of it being took out of proportion.

Except no:

It's unclear how Renew had planned to use the data, which were gathered by its reinforced, shoulder-height pods stationed near St Paul's Cathedral and Liverpool Street Station.

But if a company could see that a certain smartphone user spent 20 minutes in a McDonald's every day, it could approach Burger King about airing an ad on the bin's video display whenever that user walks by at lunchtime. Or it could target its commercials in real time by distinguishing between people who work in the area and visiting tourists.

Source: http://www.theage.com.au/techn...ficials-20130813-2rsxc.html

I'm surprised you haven't picked up on the choice of words used by the press. The hint is in the first sentence when they said "it's unclear how they're going to use the data". They use lots of 'if' and 'could'. The fact of the matter is, the bin had no concept on your location and ONLY grabbed your MAC key. The only variables which could be gathered from that is the frequency you walk past the bin, and with the addition of the same smart bins, a rough route.

Press speculating on loads of coulds and ifs, with no real evidence backing it up.

Well to me it's still a stepping stone to actual targeting of a person on the street. It's how it always begins But i also get your point.

JonnyLH said,
I'm surprised you haven't picked up on the choice of words used by the press. The hint is in the first sentence when they said "it's unclear how they're going to use the data". They use lots of 'if' and 'could'. The fact of the matter is, the bin had no concept on your location and ONLY grabbed your MAC key. The only variables which could be gathered from that is the frequency you walk past the bin, and with the addition of the same smart bins, a rough route.

Press speculating on loads of coulds and ifs, with no real evidence backing it up.

They could always have partnered with a company like Google and used their information to target the ads.

pack34 said,

They could always have partnered with a company like Google and used their information to target the ads.


What's the problem with that though? As a consumer I'm always surrounded by adverts. I'd rather see adverts what are tailored for me rather than a random selection of adverts. That's common practice for Adsense.

Neobond said,
Well to me it's still a stepping stone to actual targeting of a person on the street. It's how it always begins But i also get your point.

That's a very fair point.

JonnyLH said,

What's the problem with that though? As a consumer I'm always surrounded by adverts. I'd rather see adverts what are tailored for me rather than a random selection of adverts. That's common practice for Adsense.


That's a very fair point.


And what if they in the end wont use it for ads? But can single you out and use all this information against you?
Or are you so stubborn to believe that people are all good, nice and friendly?
Look at WW2, thanks to our dutch 'tracking of our citizens', carefully documenting where everyone lives, what their religion is, their government party affection and everything. The Germans welcomed this careful documentation of our citizens and we all know how well that ended.

Shadowzz said,

And what if they in the end wont use it for ads? But can single you out and use all this information against you?
Or are you so stubborn to believe that people are all good, nice and friendly?
Look at WW2, thanks to our dutch 'tracking of our citizens', carefully documenting where everyone lives, what their religion is, their government party affection and everything. The Germans welcomed this careful documentation of our citizens and we all know how well that ended.

What information? How many times you walked past a bin?

JonnyLH said,

What information? How many times you walked past a bin?

Its just 1 part of the hundreds if not thousands of other systems/services tracking your every move. And I think its bad enough they can track my phone through triangular location from the towers up to a 100 meters accurate. With these 'smart bins' they can find track me to even more accuracy, and are actively monitoring how often I get by the smart bins.

All this tracking of what we all do, where we all are, when we do what etc. Is in my opinion going to far. I don't want to end up wearing a whole tinfoil outfit to just go around my business without it being logged.

Shadowzz said,

Its just 1 part of the hundreds if not thousands of other systems/services tracking your every move. And I think its bad enough they can track my phone through triangular location from the towers up to a 100 meters accurate. With these 'smart bins' they can find track me to even more accuracy, and are actively monitoring how often I get by the smart bins.

All this tracking of what we all do, where we all are, when we do what etc. Is in my opinion going to far. I don't want to end up wearing a whole tinfoil outfit to just go around my business without it being logged.


No offence but that's a tin foil response.

There's no centralised system which collates all this information and points it to your person. No-one has a database where you can look up a MAC key and find out who it is. Like said, its blown out of proportion by the media which causes the public to run on a tangent. All this information is, is a MAC key. Every website could pull your MAC key without even thinking about it but that's fine on the internet, where it actually can be linked to who you are?

Yeah, blown out of proportion, why on earth are people even complaining about this right?
You are aware PRISM is far from the only such info gathering systems around right? And where do you think these central systems get their data from.

All this tracking everywhere, be it mainly decentralized, it takes little effort to centralize this. And a MAC address is usually enough to identify individual devices..

Its great this bin gets bad press and should get all the bad press available. Not a tinfoil hat wearer, just someone who is generally concerned of the future and the direction this data mining is going.

Shadowzz said,
Yeah, blown out of proportion, why on earth are people even complaining about this right?
You are aware PRISM is far from the only such info gathering systems around right? And where do you think these central systems get their data from.

All this tracking everywhere, be it mainly decentralized, it takes little effort to centralize this. And a MAC address is usually enough to identify individual devices..

Its great this bin gets bad press and should get all the bad press available. Not a tinfoil hat wearer, just someone who is generally concerned of the future and the direction this data mining is going.


It is blown out of proportion, massively.

I do understand there's more programs than PRISM but programs like PRISM collect very little data compared to what the internet actually carries. They only care about national security, and they've already stopped attempts. I'm more worried about peoples lives than the worry that the NSA could be having a look at what I'm looking at today.

Do you think ISP's can't see what you're doing? I work for an ISP and actually can filter live traffic by category and see how much data is being downloaded/uploaded from adult sits and who's doing it. Doesn't mean they care.

I understand the concern for these things gathering more data in the future, but regarding these bins there as about invading as a guy recognising people walking past his window every morning.

JonnyLH said,

They only care about national security

How do you know that? There's next to no real transparency on PRISM; AFAIK right now it's basically a "trust us, we're the government! we're nice!" kind of response.

I'm glad that they've stopped attempts (and after watching the General's speech I do agree that what they're doing is useful, if not a necessity), but until they begin to be able to show real transparency in the 'fact' that the system hasn't been abused yet and provide much better methods for whistleblowers to use, I don't have any reason to even trust the statistics they gave about stopping terror plots. It means nothing to me if they just come out when someone calls them out on it - we need a huge change in the governments thinking about this. Less of a reactionary, "oh, stop crying, we're doing it for you" and more of a proactive response, where they can provide some kind of independent review (I believe Obama has promised one, I'm looking forward to seeing what comes out that).

Neobond said,
No longer will we see hot women being shown Victoria Secret ads as they pass by

No longer will we see fat men being shown Burger King and weight loss pill ads as they pass by.