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City of London orders Renew to stop tracking citizens with its trash cans

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Renew Orb
Renew Orb

Apparently Londoners aren't fond of being tracked by public trash cans. Less than a month after Renew began anonymously collecting information about people walking past their Wi-Fi-enabled trash bins, the City of London has put a stop to the practice. “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,” the City of London said in a statement. ”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 collected details on the speed and proximity of passersby using 12 of its 100 "smart" bomb-proof trash receptacles that were installed throughout the city ahead of 2012's Summer Olympics. The manufacturer of each smartphone within tracking distance was also logged, with Renew claiming that all of this data was simply being used to assist its partners produce better targeted advertising.

That did little to quell public concern, leading CEO Kaveh Memari to issue a public letter explaining Renew's intent. "At this stage, we are only running a pilot with extremely limited, encrypted, anonymous/aggregated data," he writes. "It is very much like a website, you can tell how many hits you have had and how many repeat visitors, but we cannot tell who, or anything personal about any of the visitors on the website." Nonetheless, Renew has already pulled the plug on the controversial experiment, confirming to Quartz that all trials have ceased.