The City of London Corporation has asked Renew London to remove some of its information pods from the Square Mile. A dozen of the pods, which had advertising screens and also acted as recycling bins, were able to monitor footfall by tracking the unique MAC address of WiFi-connected phones and tablets when people passed.
A statement from the City of London Corporation said “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. 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.”
Kaveh Memari, the CEO of Renew, responded by saying “I’m afraid that in the interest of a good headline and story there has been an emphasis on style over substance that makes our technology trial slightly more interesting than it is. During our initial trials, which we are no longer conducting, a limited number of pods had been testing and collecting anonymised and aggregated MAC addresses from the street and sending one report every three minutes concerning total footfall data from the sites. The process 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. So we couldn’t tell, for example, whether we had seen devices or not as we never gathered any personal details. Future developments will, however, not just depend on technology, but also, most importantly, on people being comfortable with interactive technology.”
[More details: qz.com]