The Renew ad company has been using technology embedded in trash cans to measure Wi-Fi signals emitted by Smartphones to follow Internet users across the Web and into the physical world. Looking like normal recycling bins, with a display screen showing news updates and advertisements; they are located near St. Paul’s Cathedral and Liverpool Street Station in London. The data was being gathered by 12 reinforced, shoulder-height pods that were first tested in May. The technology being used to “cookie the street” captured Smartphone’s’ serial numbers and analyzed signal strength to follow people up and down the street.
Opening up new potential for social and commercial interactions, the trash cans join other everyday objects, including toilets and televisions that are manufactured with the ability to send and receive data. The technology also expands the world of surveillance.
After finding out about the project from the media; The City of London Corporation, which is responsible for the city’s historic “square mile” has insisted that Renew pull the plug on the program, and referred it to Britain’s data protection watchdog, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), which said it would investigate. Big Brother Watch questions “how such a blatant attack on people’s privacy was able to occur?”
Having had secretly harvested personal data, Renew’s “smart bins” are now under investigation, in possible violation of EU law.