Yes, well they were. In the Cheap-side area of Central London, the company Renew London had fitted devices into 12 “pods”, which feature LCD advertising screens, to collect footfall data by collecting information from nearby phones. Now, The City of London Corporation has asked that the company stop this data mining after receiving numerous complaints from the privacy group Big Brother Watch.

London Recycling bins

The irony of the group’s name should not be lost in all of this. In a recent study by the British Security Industry Association, they have estimated that there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 6 million CCTV cameras in Britain, of which 70,255 are in public control, read police. A large percentage of these are in London making it the most heavily recorded city in the world.

Following this newest dispute regarding the privacy of London’s citizens, Chief Executive Kaveh Memari of Renew London said the company has “stopped all trials in the meantime”.

London recycling “smartbins”?

Mr. Memari told the BBC that the devices only recorded “extremely limited, encrypted, aggregated and anonymised data,” implying that it was no different than how a website might measure traffic.

That was, however, met with a very British response. A spokesman for the City of London Corporation said, “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.”

London in a pickle over recycling eavesdrop

Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch, said, “I am pleased the City of London has called a halt to this scheme, but questions need to be asked about how such a blatant attack on people’s privacy was able to occur in the first place.  Systems like this highlight how technology has made tracking us much easier, and in the rush to generate data and revenue there is not enough of a deterrent for people to stop and ensure that people are asked to give their consent before any data is collected.”

I can’t help but think that Mr. Pickles, if that is indeed his real name, is overreacting a touch. These twelve, yes twelve recycling bins, simply collect media access control (MAC) addresses of individual smartphones,  a unique identification code carried by all devices that can connect to a network.

Given that football stadiums throughout Britain employ CCTV cameras and facial recognition software to alert police to the presence of a known football hooligan within a mile of the entrance to the stadiums, I can’t help but file this one under….Thank you, Mr. Snowden.