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Beaumont added that it is not a surprise the authorities were unaware as regulation is outdated.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
Local

Oval oasis: Summer of fun kicks off this…

A bold partnership between the Fairmount Park Conservancy and the city's Parks and Recreation Department is kicking off this weekend with family activities re-activating this unused public space.

Local

African couple claiming misidentification in robbery case to…

At a bail hearing today for Vickson and Lorfu Korlewala, charged in the robbery of an 80-year-old woman, bail was reduced from $1 million total to $500,000.

International

Jews in eastern Ukraine ordered to register, Kerry…

Secretary of State John Kerry condemned reports that Jews in eastern Ukraine had been ordered to register with the authorities "or suffer the consequences."

National

Chelsea Clinton pregnant with first child

Chelsea Clinton is pregnant with her first child.

Television

Dick Wolf to bring fictionalized world of 'Law…

A&E has ordered a pilot called "D.O.A." from "Law and Order" mastermind Dick Wolf that will focus on real detectives reexamining cold cases. A trio…

Movies

Review: 'Transcendence' is not stupid but sometimes lacks…

The cyberthriller "Transcendence" explores artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and other ethical quandaries, but has too much ambition, if anything.

Television

Shane West talks WGN America's 'Salem'

The actor on history lessons, a new network and showing his butt.

Music

Both feet on the ground with Aimee Mann…

What began with a cool double-bill of Ted Leo opening for Aimee Mann morphed into a full-fledged collaborative project that they're calling The Both. “There…

MLB

Jimmy Rollins is key to Phillies success

When John Kruk was asked about what the Phillies need to contend for a playoff berth, the ESPN analyst said Jimmy Rollins needs to play like a MVP again.

MLB

Ben Revere lifts Phillies to avoid sweep

Ben Revere came through with a two-out RBI single against Atlanta’s tough lefthander Alex Wood.

NBA

Season wrap: 76ers make the grade

The 76ers opened the 2013-14 season with a victory over the Miami Heat. The Sixers closed the season with a win at Miami.

NBA

Fantasy basketball: Finding next year's NBA studs

Before we put the 2013-14 fantasy basketball season to bed, it’s worth thinking about next year’s breakouts while they’re fresh in our mind.

Style

Light-up nail art syncs with phone

This Japanese technology syncs light-up nail art with your phone.

Wellbeing

Why is dance cardio taking off in NYC?

Instructors at some of the city's hottest classes explain why.

Travel

Earth Day travel in the Florida Keys

See why this eco-friendly destination deserves your attention.

Tech

Sorry, Facebook — FarmVille goes mobile with 'Country…

Zynga has released a version of the hit "FarmVille" tailored for smartphones and tablets in the hope of reaping a bumper crop of players.