New York City quickly announced it would get rid of devices that could turn phone booths into cellphone trackers after the program was revealed this morning.
A Buzzfeed investigation published today found that the city allowed 500 radio transmitters, called “beacons,” to be installed in pay phone booths, apparently thickly concentrated in lower and mid-Manhattan. A few hours later, the Mayor’s office said they would have them removed.
Though they could be woven into a location-aware advertising network, the beacons are there for maintenance notifications only and are not yet being used for commercial purposes, according to Titan, the firm that runs the advertising displays for thousands of city phone booths. There was no public announcement when the devices were installed.
Titan uses beacons made by a company called Gimbal, which connect with phones and have the ability to send notifications – for instance, a store might use them to alert customers to discounts – and to collect data.