Unauthorised Bluetooth beacons planted in New York phonebooth ad-boards, capable of tracking mobile users’ movements as part of a trial to deliver local business promotions to smartphones, have been removed after they were exposed by Buzzfeed.
The bluetooth trackers found in advertising out-of-home specialist, Titan payphones, were approved by government officials without the public being consulted at any stage of the development.
Titan maintains over 5,000 ad panels in phonebooths across the city and has admitted that the Gimbal’ beacons, which silently communicate with nearby mobiles, were installed in around a tenth of them.
Titan phonebooths were prepped to collect location and device details of commuters to help advertisers push local promotions to on-the-move shoppers via a third party app. Furthermore, communications with consumer devices could have seen a higher uptake of personalised digital ads delivered to smartphone users in the outdoor space.
Titan has confirmed that the devices were on trial to “see if they worked” before it chased city accreditation to legally use them on a commercial scale. Additionally, Titan claimed that any information it collected was anonymous and was not stored on a company server.
Donna Lieberman, an executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, told the Daily News: “To the extent that the city is involved in this, the lack of transparency about this data-mining operation is even more, of even greater, concern.
“This is an agreement that has to be suspended pending an open process about what’s going on.”
The trackers which were active along Broadway and Times Square, arguably New York’s busiest thoroughfares, have now been deactivated by New York officials in light of the Buzzfeed report.
In August, Liverpool announced it will lead the UK into the mobile proximity marketing industry, installing bluetooth and NFC comms throughout the city to help visitors absord its art, history and culture via smartphones.