London ‘spy bins’ under investigation for phone hacking

Extracting the MAC addresses from passing smartphones. Credit: Renew
The “spy bins” extract MAC addresses from passing smartphones.
Credit: Renew

They look like normal recycling bins, with a display screen showing news updates and adverts. But new “smart bins” in London have been secretly harvesting personal data and are now under investigation, in possible violation of EU law.

The model from technology company Renew has been collecting the unique electronic signatures (MAC addresses) from passing smartphones, reaching more than four million devices in trials this year. The company claims the data reveals the user’s route, frequency of visit and time at a location, which it would provide for advertisers to personally target consumers.

The City of London ordered the company on Monday to stop the practice and referred it to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), a data protection agency, for investigation. “Anything that happens like this on the streets needs to be done carefully, with the backing of an informed public,” it said in a statement.

Renew director Kaveh Memari downplayed the investigation, telling Metro the data gathered is “always anonymous.” Memari said the practice was “just a trial at this stage to see if the technology worked to merit a longer term discussion.”

But he may be in conflict with the EU’s so-called Cookie Law, which states that permission is required to gather personal data, or cookies (tiny individual databases websites use to identity past users). “The majority of opinion is that MAC address and location is personal data and requires consent,” Richard Beaumont, expert on data protection law at The Cookie Collective, told Metro. “Four readings is enough personal information not to be anonymous.”

Beaumont added that it is not a surprise the authorities were unaware as regulation is outdated. “This is not widely known about so there is no effective deterrent.”

A spokesman of the UK Advertising Association said this type of data gathering went too far, saying tracking “must be transparent to be legitimate.” But the source added that most people want tailored advertising, and a 2012 Accenture survey showed just 36 percent of people objected to being tracked.

The Renew bins will have further trials in North America and Asia.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Sprint and T-Mobile offer further price discounts

Sprint unveiled a plan on Thursday that gives subscribers access to unlimited data for $60 a month, the industry's cheapest unlimited data offering.

National

Hundreds pay it forward at Florida Starbucks in…

The spontaneous chain of kindness continued for about 11 hours, totaling 457 transactions by the time it ended.

National

Weather system east of Caribbean could turn into…

An area of low pressure located east of the Caribbean Sea has a 50 percent chance of becoming a tropical depression or storm in the next 48 hours, U.S. forecasters…

National

U.S. hospital to discharge doctor treated with experimental…

An American doctor who contracted Ebola treating victims of the deadly virus in Liberia has recovered and will be discharged on Thursday by the Atlanta hospital that treated him with…

Movies

Review: 'When the Game Stands Tall' is both…

The high school football saga "When the Game Stands Tall" fumbles around for a focus while Jim Caviezel offers the most low-key coach in history.

Movies

Girlfriend in a coma: Chloe Grace Moretz

Chloe Grace Moretz is the best cheerleader "If I Stay" could ask for. As the star of the film adaptation of the successful YA novel…

The Word

The Word: Summer lovin' for Zac Efron and…

Ah, the summer romance. So intense, so fleeting. With Labor Day fast approaching, it should come as little surprise that the incredibly surprising romance between…

The Word

The Word: The Zac Efron-Michelle Rodriguez summer fling…

  Ah, the summer romance. So intense, so fleeting. With Labor Day fast approaching, it should come as little surprise that the incredibly surprising romance…

NFL

Fantasy football draft guide: How to draft your…

Many are wondering if we’re entering a new age in fantasy football drafting — one where running backs take a backseat.

NFL

Jets vs. Giants: 3 Giants storylines to watch

The Giants have plenty to work on as they reach the dress rehearsal preseason game Friday night against the rival Jets.

NFL

Jets vs. Giants: 3 Jets storylines to watch

Metro looks at three Jets storylines to watch as they play the Giants Friday.

NFL

Giants expected to work Corey Washington into first-team…

The day of reckoning for the Giants' fringe players will fall upon them Friday night against the Jets.

Sex

Big weddings may lead to long-term happiness

Dreaming of a big wedding? A new study indicates that the longer your guest list, the happier you’ll be in the long run. l A…

Sex

Online dating for every generation

Frank Jackson and his mother Maggie are like lots of modern families: They have dinner together regularly, keep each other updated on their lives —…

Wellbeing

Going green could be the key to getting…

If we could just pursue the things that would actually make us happy, we could help the environment too, according to a New York researcher.…

Tech

Siren: A new dating app that puts women…

Online dating can be brutal, especially for single women. Noting that many women hate wading through inappropriate messages and photos, two tech entrepreneurs decided to…