London’s smart bins know what phone you’re using and how fast you walk

renew pod smart binUK startup Renew is taking smartphone tracking to London’s streets with the help of its Wi-Fi-enabled rubbish bins.

Until now BB has been used as an abbreviation for Big Brother. Very soon, however, it could be more Big Bin.

If you are a regular on London’s streets you will probably have noticed the new high-tech bins that are fitted with advertisement screens.

Well, a handful of the city’s 100 Renew Pods are now equipped with new “Renew Orbs,” which uses Wi-Fi to track the proximity and speed of people walking past and identify the make of their smartphone.

GigaOm points out, rather correctly, that Londoners will probably be surprised to discover that not only are they are being tracked by bins, but also be unaware that it’s happening without their permission.

Renew installed Orbs in London’s City square-mile, home to the highest concentration of professionals (and me when at my day job) in Europe. In fact, there’s one of these bins sat directly outside my office window.

The marketing company allows clients to use its smart bins to conduct their own statistical analysis on “trending demographics” in high profile locations.

In other words, they would be able to see if there are more iPhone or Galaxy S4 owners walking past a certain Pod so it would enable a retailer to work out how many consumers are likely to be in the area and range smartphone accessories to cater for them.

Renew’s approach is likely to attract attention as both UK and EU privacy laws require companies to notify consumers they are being tracked and allow them to opt out.

Even if the company fixes notices around the tracking trash cans or uses digital signage to warn people walking past it, Renew isn’t able to provide an easy way for them to immediately tell the company that they don’t wish to participate.

However, because the system utilises Wi-Fi to gather information, personal data cannot be obtained and is purely for research purposes only. Does that make you feel any easier? Nah, me neither really.

Retailers across the world are to using similar tracking techniques to learn more about their customers. Armed with anonymous data, store owners can tune layouts, offer discount coupons, or reward frequent buyers, much like their online counterparts.

Are you ok with this? The next time you stroll past a smart bin or stand at a bus stop, just think that there’s probably information being gathered about the devices you’re carrying.

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