A little more than a day after an investigative piece revealed "beacons" in New York City phone booths could potentially track smartphone information and push advertisements to passersby, the mayor's office announced Monday afternoon the devices would be removed "over the coming days."
On Sunday, Buzzfeed reportedTitan, a media company that specializes in reaching "people in transit," had installed about 500 beacons in phone booths across the city, for "maintenance purposes" late last year without the public knowing. The beacons, made by Gimbal, have been installed in phone booths, but were not actively collecting phone data, according to the mayor's office, though signals can be picked up by apps. When activated, the beacons could push content to nearby phones if users had Bluetooth on and allowed a third-party app to do so.
According to city records through the city's Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, Titan has been a "public pay telephone franchisee" since 2001, and an "approved media representative." In 2012, the company was part of a pilot program that provided free WiFi through telephone booths, according to a media release.
“Titan has been an important city partner in helping expand communications options for New Yorkers, from piloting free public WiFi to providing free calling on all its payphones across the five boroughs for three weeks after Hurricane Sandy. While the beacons Titan installed in some of its phones for testing purposes are incapable of receiving or collecting any personally identifiable information, we have asked Titan to remove them from their phones. The beacons will be removed over the coming days,” said mayor's office Phil Walzak in a prepared statement.
The New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman said in a statement than "having a cell phone isn't an invitation for corporations to track and monitor your every move," and said the technology raises "major privacy concerns" for New Yorkers.