Cellphone-Tracking “Beacons” Installed In Payphones To Be Removed

October 7, 2014 | Rhett Jones

Titan — the outdoor advertising company responsible for placings ads on pay phone booths throughout the city and equipping hundreds of them with “beacons” that track passing cellphones — has announced that they will get rid of the controversial devices.

A City Hall spokesman tells Buzzfeed that the pseudo-surveillance gizmos “will be removed over the coming days.”

Gimbal, the manufacturer of the tracking mechanisms, says that they were not collecting data from pedestrians and that the “beacons” were only being used for the purpose of pushing ads to users who opted-in with a compatible app. That may be true, but according to Gimbal’s privacy policy, they can collect your current location, the time of day you passed the “beacon,” and details about your device, if they want to.

Titan says they were only using the bluetooth-enabled gadgets in a test for future purposes: “Titan is committed to testing new technologies which may have future benefits to its municipality partners and their constituents.” Those future benefits would most likely be in the implementation of these stations that are planned to replace payphones soon. Since the city is counting on Titan’s contract, they went to great pains to emphasize that “Titan has been an important City partner in helping expand communications options for New Yorkers.”

Titan originally told the DoITT that the apparatuses were to be used for maintenance purposes, and they were given permission without a formal approval process. Just like many people who “opted-in” through a third-party app, the city should have read the fine print. (Photo: Chris Ford)