Recycling bins that collected WiFi data from passers-by have been banned by the City of London Corporation. Even though Renew London – the firm that produces the smart bins – had rebuffed claims from the media that the bins were tracking mobile users, all data collection has stopped following the ban, according to the BBC.
Kaveh Memari, the CEO of the Tech City-based firm said in a statement that the claims made about the bins had been exaggerated. "I'm afraid that in the interest of a good headline and story there has been an emphasis on style over substance that makes our technology trial slightly more interesting than it is," he said.
There are currently 100 Renew bins scattered around the City of London, 12 of which have WiFI installed that takes the MAC address of any device with its WiFi switched on.
The primary purpose of the bins is to display advertising, but the inclusion of WiFi tracking attracted significant media attention, thrusting the company into the spotlight and conjuring up images of Minority Report-style customised advertising and data-collecting worries. It was suggested keeping track of WiFi data would allow personalised ads to be displayed to people walking past.
According to Memari, despite "extrapolations" conjured up by media reports, most of what has been suggested is not yet possible, and ensured the public that their information was not being stored.
"During our current trials, a limited number of pods have been testing and collecting anonymised and aggregated MAC addresses from the street and sending one report every three minutes concerning total footfall data from the sites."
He added: "A lot of what has been extrapolated is capabilities that could be developed and none of these are workable right now. For now, we continue to count devices and are able to distinguish uniques versus repeats. 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."
A spokesperson from the City of London Corporation shrugged off Memari's statement, adding: "Irrespective of what's technically possible, anything that happens like this on the streets needs to be done carefully, with the backing of an informed public."
An ICO statement said: "Any technology that involves the processing of personal information must comply with the Data Protection Act. We are aware of the concerns being raised over the use of these bins and will be making enquiries to establish what action, if any, is required."
in July, Renew London released data collected via its collection of bins, with more than 750,000 wireless gadgets spotted by the devices each day.
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