Londons Data-collecting Bins Scrapped

The City of London Corporation has ordered Renew to halt a trial of technology which enabled its public recycling bins to collect data from nearby pedestrians mobile devices.

If you live or work in London, youve likely seen Renews smart bins around in the Square Mile – they feature LCD screens which display public information, news and adverts. A dozen of the bins recently started using the built-in Orb technology to record the MAC number of any passing devices with wi-fi turned on.

“We have already asked the firm concerned to stop this data collection immediately and we have also taken the issue to the Information Commissioner’s Office,” said a spokesman for the City of London. “Irrespective of what’s technically possible, anything that happens like this on the streets needs to be done carefully, with the backing of an informed public.”

Renew has been careful to point out that the data collected was anonymous and encrypted, and was only being used to measure footfall, rather than gathering personal details. In his statement, Renew CEO Kaveh Memari claimed that a lot of the public concerns were based on extrapolating the potential capabilities of the technology.

“We no longer continue to count devices and are presently not able to distinguish uniques versus repeats,” said Memari. “However, the process is very much like a website. You can tell how many hits you have had and evaluate repeat visitors, but we cannot tell anything personal about any of the visitors on the website. So we were unable to tell, for example, whether we had seen devices or not as we never gathered any personal details.

“Future developments will, however, not just depend on technology, but also, most importantly, on people being comfortable with interactive technology. This has always and continues to be Renew’s key concern.”