Bins and toilets

Quartz picked up an interesting story about some new bins that have hit the streets in London:

Recycling bins in the City of London are monitoring the phones of passers-by, so advertisers can target messages at people whom the bins recognize. […]  The idea is to bring internet tracking cookies to the real world. The bins record a unique identification number, known as a MAC address, for any nearby phones and other devices that have Wi-Fi turned on. That allows Renew to identify if the person walking by is the same one from yesterday, even her specific route down the street and how fast she is walking.

The idea of bringing tracking cookies to the real world is alarming, but also challenging.  How do you discern a person’s attributes from simply their MAC address?  Well, for one attribute in particular, the advertising company has a clever but incredibly creepy solution:

Memari said he was working on a proposal for a bar that would install five tracking devices: one by the entrance, one on the roof, one near the cash register, and one in each of the bathrooms. That would allow the bar to know each person’s gender (from the bathroom trackers)

Perhaps they could diagnose health issues through the frequency one visits the bathroom?

Particularly alarming is the company’s approach to opting out.  You can turn off your wifi, but, the response is:

“The chances are, if we don’t see you on the first, second, or third day, we’ll eventually capture you,” he said. “We just need you to have it on once.”

That points to a very healthy attitude to privacy.

Thankfully, after much public outcry (and not before, obviously), The City of London have halted it.  No one comes out of this one smelling of roses.


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