Even The Trashcans Are Watching
August 17, 2013

Even The Trashcans Are Watching

This week redOrbit reported that the Renew London, a start-up data-gathering firm, had stopped tests that placed tracking technology in public recycling bins. The City of London actually stepped in to prevent the firm from using the information to determine pedestrians’ daily habits and selling this data to advertisers.

The City of London also issued a statement of its own, saying: “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.”

There is some irony in all this as it is probably impossible to walk down a street in London without being seen by numerous cameras. These cameras have become omnipresent in recent years due to terrorist threats. These cameras are of course not limited just to the British capital; nearly every major city now has cameras virtually everywhere.

Moreover, it was such cameras that helped law enforcement in the recent Boston bombing this past April.

The question is, why the outrage in this case? Well, for one, the sensors in the trashcans aren’t there to help keep anyone safe; those are there to sell things.

In the movie Minority Report, a character — played by Tom Cruise — is on the run from the law and has his eyes replaced with those of another individual. Why? Because eyes, much like finger prints, are completely unique to an individual and in the movie are used to track people as much by retailers as law enforcement.

Is this the world we’re coming to? In many ways, the tracking is voluntary.

Go to the grocery store and use that discount card and you’re habits are being tracked, which is why this reporter gets lots of pasta sauce coupons in the mail from the store these days. They know my buying habits and want my business.

The same thing happens with Best Buy, Home Depot, Office Depot, Qdoba and just about any other places I frequent – but because I offer the information. I do so because I get a discount, get reward points or something else. It isn’t just so people can market something to me.

In other words we don’t mind selling our privacy. This includes accepting those cameras on the streets because these keep us safe — at least in theory.

We don’t mind offering a discount card to buy movies or groceries because we get discounts on those purchases we make. Buy enough burritos at Qdoba and you get a free one. That’s actually a lot easier than flying a lot to get a free plane ticket – and Qdoba doesn’t black out certain meals or charge you for using what you earned, but that’s another rant.

What Renew London wants to do is track us — or at least those in London — and sell the data. The marketers will use this to try to sell us products. It is a win-win for Renew London and the firms buying the data, but a lose for everyone who is tracked.

Track me if you want to protect me, track me if you’ll give me a discount (or a free burrito every once in a while) but don’t track me so you can make money by selling the habits of consumers. The part of about this is that it is akin to alchemy, except no base metal is required.

At least with the alchemists of old, they tried to turn lead into gold. This turns nothing into money. So, to Renew London I say, do the research another way and leave people to walk the streets and discard their paper without you tracking them.

Image Credit: Renew London

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Peter Suciu is a freelance writer and has covered consumer electronics, technology, electronic entertainment and the fitness sports industry for more than 15 years. In that time his work has appeared in more than three dozen publications including Newsweek, PC Magazine and Wired. His work has also appeared on Forbes.com, Inc.com, Cnet.com, and Fortune.com. Peter is a regular writer for redOrbit.com.

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