Street-side trashcans that track your smartphone banished from London

The city of London has asked a marketing company to stop using street-side trash bins to track the unique hardware identifier of every Wi-Fi-enabled smartphone that passes by, according to a published report.

The request by London officials came a few days after Ars and other publications reported the deployment of bins outfitted with technology to collect the unique media access control (MAC) address of every Wi-Fi enabled device that came within range. In press releases, the company boasted that the cans, which included LCD advertising screens, "provide an unparalleled insight into the past behavior of unique devices"—and hence of the people who carry them around.

The company, known as Renew, has suspended all trials of the program following a request by London officials, according to an article published Monday by the BBC. The BBC quoted a spokesman for the City of London Corporation as saying, "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." Meanwhile, Renew's CEO maintained that the bins were mere "glorified people-counters in the street" and that his company held no personal information about the people carrying the mobile devices being tracked.

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