At Least 500 Hidden Surveillance Devices around NYC Are Tracking People

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While in London old phone booths are being transformed into charging stations, in New York City thousands of phone booth advertising displays are being turned into surveillance machines.

A spokesperson for the Department of Information Technology and Communications (DoITT), Nicholas Sbordine, confirmed to Buzzfeed on Monday that a company called Titan has installed devices called “beacons” into at least 500 such displays around New York City. These beacons, tiny Bluetooth mechanisms made by a company called Gimbal, can send signals to smart phones, as well as barrage people with advertisements geared to their present locations.

Sbordine also told Buzzfeed that the city originally agreed to installing the devices in 2013 for maintenance purposes only. Despite this, the technology has been increasingly used in locations like stadiums to direct people where to go, or in stores to inform customers of a sale. Tribeca Film Festival used Gimbal to notify those at the festival about nearby happenings, according to one event press release.

New York City residents, however, had no say in the matter, much less assent to being surveillanced. Many find the situation alarming, since, according to NY Daily News,  while Gimbal claims that it does not gather “personally identifiable information” on app users, but other companies who have deals with Gimbal can obtain plenty of data on its app participants, including how long someone stands in place and the websites they visit while doing so.

“We are testing a number of use cases, one of which is inventory management,” said the spokesman, Dave Etherington at Gimbal. “We wanted to see if beacons worked in the first place.” He claimed that Titan, which admitted “there are potential advertising-use cases, for sure,” is “absolutely, categorically not” gathering data from smart phones in the vicinity, including, he said, at the Tribeca Film Festival.

NY Daily News reported that when asked, NYPD refused to comment on whether they were using the beacons. Buzzfeed did their own investigative work to find some of the beacons, which can be seen here.

Zachery Bridgeman | News Cult