Marketing firm calls truce on use of bins to track City mobiles

Hidden wireless pods used to scan phones’ MAC codes

A marketing firm using smart trashcans to track thousands of City of London workers has called a temporary halt to the scheme amid fears about data infringement. Leeds-based Presence Orb, which is behind the technology, had been tracking the movements of up to four million passers-by a week, collecting footfall data by scanning their mobiles. Its client, Renew London, had fitted a dozen trashcans with its wirelessly enabled pods which were then able to log the media access control (MAC) address of individual smartphones in the capital’s Cheapside area.

According to Presence Orb’s website, clients using its technology can gain “rich analytical insight” from scanning the movements of nearby phones and other wireless devices “not only by historic demographic and consumer events but live consumer actions, needs and interests.”

But following the City Corporation’s intervention it has stopped the trial for the time being, though its CEO, Kaveh Memari, remains unrepentant claiming the bins were just “glorified people-counters in the street.”

Collection of anonymous data through MAC addresses is something of a legal grey area in Britain.

Though both the UK and EU have strict laws about mining personal data using cookies, the process of tracking MAC codes leaves no trace on individuals’ handsets.

Meanwhile, as the Information Commissioner’s Office looks into the City Corporation’s concerns, Presence Orb has posted details on its website of how mobile users can stop being tracked.

The details can be found here.

About Dave Evans

Dave Evans is a long established commentator on both the IT and cellular industries. His current focus is on share price trends within the sector. You can email him here
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