Are Bins Spying on You?
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Are Bins Spying on You?



With all the talk of governments spying on their citizens, is it any wonder that bins are now using mobile technology to monitor those who walk past them?

It has been revealed that Renew, a UK company which creates “smart” bins, has been asked by the City of London to stop using their technology to monitor citizens on the street who are  using their mobile phones.

There were 200 “smart” bins in operation throughout the City of London, each of which was capable of digitally advertising and featuring news updates to citizens. It was announced that a trial programme would begin in June, using UK-based technology from Presense Orb to gather data from the mobile phones of passers-by.

The data collected included the make and model of the device, as well as Media Access Control (MAC) addresses.

The purpose behind such technology was to allow advertisers to see who was passing by the bins, so that adverts could be targeted towards certain demographics to make advertising more efficient.

The trial, which stretched for just four days earlier this year, counted 330,000 mobile devices. The June rollout was extended for a week, and over 4 million mobile phones and their users were monitored. 

Since details have emerged of the “smart” bins, some human rights groups have expressed anger at the data being collected without the public’s permission. Big Brother Watch, a group focused on limiting the amount of data and control that companies and government have over our lives, described the new bins as attacking the public’s privacy rights.

In addition to the City of London asking the company to halt the devices immediately, the Information Commissioner's Office confirmed that they will analyse the devices to see if they were legal.

A spokesman for the Renew Orb company said that the intentions behind the data gathered from the bins has been misreported by the media, and that the public backlash which followed the revelations was the result of media exaggerations over the privacy concerns.

He went on to compare the bins to websites, which routinely gather data about their users in the same way that the bins do. In regards to privacy concerns, the spokesman for Renew Orb said that there was no misuse of data because individual data is not collected by the devices. 

However despite the outrage at the “smart” bin saga, other companies have come under pressure to be more transparent about the data they collect.

In May this year EE and Ipsos MORI were criticised by the media for selling on customer data to third parties, something the Sunday Times compared to the “Snooper’s Charter” that has been opposed by so many Lib Dem MPs. 

However it should be noted that other companies have not been criticised as heavily; Telefónica Digital uses a similar process to aggregate data from O2 devices to analyse who steps into their stores, without media reprisals. 

The difference, a Telefónica Digital spokesman said, was that they had sought public opinion before going ahead with their plans; something the “smart” bins did not. 



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