Smart Trash Cans Tracking Cell Phone Users

It feels like something straight out of a science fiction movie, except it is very real and it is happening regardless of whether we like it. Companies are beginning to test the boundaries of consumer privacy through Wi-Fi embedded tracking devices. Since the potential for direct consumer marketing is huge, this hypothetical revenue is the push behind new smart trash cans that recently debuted in London.

The new smart trash cans first popped up in London in early 2012 as a way to give pedestrians important information such as the time, emergency alerts, business news, and of course, advertisements, in a cool, futuristic LCD format. Now, the company is testing a new feature – the ability to embed these trash cans with a device that would allow them to track and analyze signals from nearby smartphones.

This analytic tool would track consumers via their Wi-Fi connected devices and act as a cookie for the real world. This data would reveal consumer’s behaviors, their type of device, and more. Then the software would let Renew, the company behind the technology, sell other businesses this data. Stores could potentially target consumers with ads that would appeal to them as they pass by. The short story and film, Minority Report, springs to mind.

The trash cans themselves were located outside of the Cheapside area of central London. They logged the MAC addresses of individual smartphones and were able to track these devices down to the 50th of a second, according to the Renew website.

This type of tracking and monitoring raises privacy concerns for most consumers and already has opponents up in arms. In fact, the company began tracking data from more than 4 million cell phones in June – unbeknownst to consumers. As a result of public outcry, the City of London asked Renew to cease using these “smart” cans.

Renew has continued to maintain that their devices were merely people counters and that their software did not hold any personal information about the people who were holding or carrying these smartphones. This, however, was not enough to convince either the City of London or outraged consumers.

“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.”

–Spokesman for the City of London Corporation

For now, Renew has suspended their trials, but it has opened up a Pandora’s Box regarding the privacy concerns associated with Wi-Fi enabled devices. What makes them so great and easy to use also makes them a privacy threat. While the idea of marketers gleaning personal information to target consumers with advertisements may seem scary, the idea of another person or group of people doing so for personal agendas or voyeuristic means is terrifying. Cyber-stalking is real and present.

To protect yourself as much as possible, it is best to turn off Wi-Fi on your devices except when needed. While this will not protect you from all cyber threats, it can lessen the risk.

At Forensicon, we have the technology and the experience to assist your company or firm with all digital and electronic issues. With over a decade of experience, we can help your company protect its privacy from potential hackers, tracking devices, and more. To learn more about how our computer forensic specialists can assist your firm, call us at 1-888-427-5667 or visit us on the web at www.forensicon.com.

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