UK Firm Tracking Users' Cell Phone Choices via Trashcans

Not everyone is using the same phone, or even the same smartphone platform, and knowing which of these is the most popular in a certain area is valuable information. One UK company has taken a novel approach in its bid to find out which smartphone are most popular in London.

Marketing firm Renew has deployed internet-connected recycling bins in the City of London and each one is fitted with Renew ORB, a new technology from Renew that uses an inbuilt hardware device to capture smartphone data in real-time. The bins gather smartphone data from passersby and serve advertising and news to individuals based on the data collected. Following a trial of the technology in June, Renew revealed that its network gathered MAC addresses from 946,016 devices in a single day. Over the week of testing, Renew reached captured over four million devices with over 530,000 uniques acquired.

"There are significant commercial applications for this data, including highlighting leading handset manufacturers dominating the smartphone market along with abridged impressions of the Square Mile’s most popular commuter destinations," Renew said at the time. "Renew are also working on proposals for clients to combine the Renew ORB technology both within the Renew Pods on the street and their venues in the City of London."

What's got most people talking, though, is that Renew doesn't ask a users permission before obtaining their data. Renew told Wired that it's gathering anonymised and aggregated MAC data and that it doesn't track individuals or individual MAC addresses. Will that be enough for the EU, which already requires websites inform users about their cookie storing policies? Users can opt out via the Presence Orb website, but we wouldn't be surprised if the UK or EU insisted that this be advertised more clearly.

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  • Sovereign_Pwner
    Minority Report anyone?
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  • house70
    In UK every move is watched/recorded by a CCTV camera, so they should feel quite at home with this.../jk
    On a serious note, every stupid company that decides to gather data this way should have an opt-IN page, not an opt-out.
    Turns out, it's OK when the govt does it, not others (unless, of course, they fully cooperate with govt request to hand over the data anytime).
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  • hrhuffnpuff
    I guess it is time for two tin cans and a few miles of string.
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