British trash cans are getting smart. Really smart. In fact, some of them have the capability to track which way citizens go to work and interpret their daily behavior by tracking them through an identifier in their cell phones.
Technology website Ars Technica reports that London now possesses trash cans “that track the unique hardware identifier of every Wi-Fi enabled smartphone that passes by.”
The website reports that a London-based marketing firm named Renew was able to track the “footfall” of more than four million devices in June using just 12 trash cans. Renew’s website even put out a press release that likened its products’ capability to “Internet cookies in the real world.”
“[Our product] provides an unparalleled insight into the past behavior of unique devices—entry/exit points, dwell times, places of work, places of interest, and affinity to other devices—and should provide a compelling reach database for predictive analytics (likely places to eat, drink, personal habits, etc.),” a company press release states.
Ars Technica likened the trash can trackers to the Tom Cruise movie “Minority Report,” in which technology tracks his character’s every move.
“This dystopic possibility of trash cans that can recognize passersby seems to be lost on Renew, which has hinted at the possibility of bringing smartphone-tracking bins to New York and Singapore as well,” writes Dan Goodin. “There’s no indication that Renew is observing anything more than the MAC address of the phones that pass by. But there’s little stopping someone else — working for his own creepy motives or for a more nefarious company or government agency — from building a similar network that collects the same MAC address data and combines it with any unencrypted traffic that may leak out.”
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