London's stalker rubbish bins scrapped – for now

The City of London Corporation has ordered that rubbish bins stop spying on its citizens.

A provider of recycling bins in London, Renew, was using its bins to monitor the phones of passers-by for targeted advertising purposes.

According to the Daily Telegraph after concerns over privacy emerged, the City of London asked Renew to halt the trial, and has referred the case to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

Renew CEO Kaveh Memari has stopped the trials until there is a comment from the ICO.

Writing in his blog, he said that during the initial trials a limited number of pods had 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. Those trials have been stopped.

“A lot of what had been extrapolated is capabilities that could be developed and none of which are workable right now. For now, we no longer continue to count devices and are able to distinguish uniques versus repeats,” he wrote.

Some of the extrapolation was mostly because of Renew’s own marketing materials on the trail.

For example, Renew said that the test measured “variables in market share between mobile handheld providers within the City’s Square Mile”, but also promises to measure the speed and movement of individual phones.

It also claimed this could help shop and bar owners to map the total footfall percentage within a 3-4 min walking distance of the shop.

Renew has now promised to consult on future developments: “Come the time we discuss creating the future levels of protection, we can move to an improved service where we can bring better content to people,” Renew said.

The company said that its “firm intention” is to discuss progressions publicly first, and it pledged to collaborate with privacy groups like the EFF, but said it is still committed to leading the charge on the implementation of such technology.