Hundreds of Bluetooth Ad Beacons Uncovered in NYC Payphones

Hundreds of Bluetooth Ad Beacons Uncovered in NYC Payphones

Titan Free WiFi 310x

NYC City Hall now wants the beacons removed, even though the city government approved the initiative.

Bluetooth beacons that were discovered in hundreds of New York City payphone booths will now be removed, despite the deployment being approved by City Hall.

BuzzFeed reports that Titan, a firm that controls thousands of payphones and their ad displays across the city, placed several hundred Bluetooth beacons in payphones under its control. The beacons, which were approved by NYC's Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT), were supposedly placed purely for "maintenance purposes only."

The beacons were installed in Fall 2013, meaning they've been active for nearly a year already. Whatever their original proposed purpose was, Titan has admitted to using the Bluetooth beacons to trigger ad rotation on the aforementioned phone booths, as well as to push advertising to smartphones directly. The latter recently came in the form of pushed ads during the Tribeca Film Festival.

After BuzzFeed's report broke, the DoITT said all Bluetooth beacons would be removed immediately. 500 beacons are in play, and while their exact locations aren't known publicly, the report says most of the hardware is in lower Manhattan.

These Bluetooth beacons represent a serious potential invasion of privacy and security; even if people in the area don't opt-in for smartphone ads, the beacons can still track phones and devices in the area that have Bluetooth turned on. If you're using wireless headphones, or a headset with your smartphone, that likely includes you. The Bluetooth tracking can tie into specific apps (again, with user opt-in), and at the very least can tell the ad displays when a given number of people are within viewing range of the ads, triggering rotation.

Along with advertising displays and Bluetooth beacons, Titan is also one of the firms responsible for WiFi hotspots based in NYC payphones. Such WiFi, once widely implemented, is sure to operate like WiFi in airports (ad-supported), so this disaster could have long-reaching consequences for the firm. The city also has some questions to answer, as the beacons were placed without any sort of public notification, or discourse.

Sources: BuzzFeed | NY Daily News

Image Credits: Architizer | Mashable

Permalink

Do people actually go around with their Bluetooth turned on at all times? Why not just turn it on when you need it?

Wait... You're telling me that payphones are still a thing?

Adam Jensen:
Do people actually go around with their Bluetooth turned on at all times? Why not just turn it on when you need it?

If you have a bluetooth smart-watch or use bluetooth headphones, yes.

Adam Jensen:
Do people actually go around with their Bluetooth turned on at all times? Why not just turn it on when you need it?

Adam, you're using common sense. That's not how people think. People are lazy and probably don't bother to shut them off.

FalloutJack:

Adam Jensen:
Do people actually go around with their Bluetooth turned on at all times? Why not just turn it on when you need it?

Adam, you're using common sense. That's not how people think. People are lazy and probably don't bother to shut them off.

People who don't regularly use Bluetooth have it turned off -- myself included. But if you are using wireless headphones for music, a hands-free headset for music, phone calls, or a smartwatch of some sort? Bluetooth is on, and susceptible.

And regardless of your personal Bluetooth usage, this is a massive breach of privacy, and one that wasn't disclosed to the public by the City of New York.

-Devin Connors, Tech Editor.

Devin Connors:

FalloutJack:

Adam Jensen:
Do people actually go around with their Bluetooth turned on at all times? Why not just turn it on when you need it?

Adam, you're using common sense. That's not how people think. People are lazy and probably don't bother to shut them off.

People who don't regularly use Bluetooth have it turned off -- myself included. But if you are using wireless headphones for music, a hands-free headset for music, phone calls, or a smartwatch of some sort? Bluetooth is on, and susceptible.

And regardless of your personal Bluetooth usage, this is a massive breach of privacy, and one that wasn't disclosed to the public by the City of New York.

-Devin Connors, Tech Editor.

Oh, I'm not arguing the privacy point. You're spot on, there. I just think it's likely that people don't even think about it.

This is outrageous! Astonishing! Unbelievable!

...people still use pay phones?

Adam Jensen:
Do people actually go around with their Bluetooth turned on at all times? Why not just turn it on when you need it?

I don't use the internet, so why is SOPA a problem for me?

yes people like me still use payphones.. i dont own a mobile phone, heck the only phone in the house is attached to the wall rotary one :D

i wouldnt be surprised if this was just the tip of the iceberg with corporations and governments using this alot

And Man:
Wait... You're telling me that payphones are still a thing?

I don't know about the US but here in Australia the largest phone company (Telstra) is required by law to have a certain number of pay phones per person (not sure of the density). Atleast it used to be, afaik it hasn't changed. The reason being that it's a service for the community, esp those that can't effort mobiles/phones and also those who's mobile has died.

I thought that bluetooth devices both need to accept a pairing to push data. How did ads get pushed onto peoples phones?

SexyGarfield:
I thought that bluetooth devices both need to accept a pairing to push data. How did ads get pushed onto peoples phones?

the bluetooth spec includes a broadcast mode, but it's rarely used, at least in most cases. guess these beacons are getting some use out of that.

Then it seems like with bluetooth, as with data and applications, we desperately need finer grain permissions in our settings.

This piece contains a lot of hysterical & irresponsible factual errors.

Deployment of these devices was never "approved by City Hall" it was approved by DoITT without City Hall's knowledge. It was ordered shut down by City Hall. That's irresponsible politicizing.

The beacons *were* placed for "maintenance purposes only" meaning that Titan put them out there to see if they worked, not to covertly spy on unsuspecting passers-by.

"Whatever their original proposed purpose was, Titan has admitted to using the Bluetooth beacons to trigger ad rotation on the aforementioned phone booths, as well as to push advertising to smartphones directly." [Citation needed]

These "beacons represent a serious *potential* (emphasis added) invasion of privacy and security" but no evidence yet suggests that Titan or the City Of New York has been mining citizens' Bluetooth signals for personally identifiable information.

"The Bluetooth tracking can tie into specific apps (again, with user opt-in)" YES! *with user opt-in*. Where is the crime here? I don't mind being followed around on the WWW by ads. Why should anyone be surprised if Titan360, in defence of its dying business model, would lead the marauding hordes of advertisers in taking online tracking to street level? I'm not excusing or exculpating the behaviour from a culturally anthropological point of view. I'm saying that it is inevitable.

Bad day for Titan360.com, though. They're no fan of mine but this nuisance bit of near-journalism is a lightning bolt.

The picture used to complement this story (probably ripped illegally from some other source) shows a Van Wagner spokesperson/account rep., not a Titan360.com employee.

Why does this story open with a gratuitous link to itself? That's SEO from when SEO didn't exist.

Whole lot of hullabaloo over nothing. Titan got permission from DoITT to place these objects for testing purposes. A kneejerk reaction from a technologically dysfunctional mayor gets follow-up headlines, and people who might actually want to opt in to something like this get to wait for the city's bureaucracy to catch up with reality.

Hats off to Buzzfeed, though. As much as I've loathed that site for its clickbait and vacuous content it seems they are actually deploying their overpaid serfs to research and report actual journalism. Too bad this piece missed the mark.

===

p.s., I own and operate The Payphone Project, so I have a concerted interest in matters such as these. Have a great night.

sorabji:

Why does this story open with a gratuitous link to itself? That's SEO from when SEO didn't exist.

This is the forum, the link is to actual article. But you'd know that if you were a community member and not someone who just signed up to defend themselves after googling their project and the surrounding furore.

FalloutJack:

Adam Jensen:
Do people actually go around with their Bluetooth turned on at all times? Why not just turn it on when you need it?

Adam, you're using common sense. That's not how people think. People are lazy and probably don't bother to shut them off.

FalloutJack:
Oh, I'm not arguing the privacy point. You're spot on, there. I just think it's likely that people don't even think about it.

People are indeed often lazy, and often don't even think about it. Just as people often are lazy and don't even think about thoroughly reading the article, where the writer gives two specific examples of why people might have their bluetooth turned on as they go about their business.

OT: Massive invasion of privacy, no public disclosure or discussion... hope the benefits to their advertising were worth all the massive fallout they're going to get now.

Devin Connors:

FalloutJack:

Adam Jensen:
Do people actually go around with their Bluetooth turned on at all times? Why not just turn it on when you need it?

Adam, you're using common sense. That's not how people think. People are lazy and probably don't bother to shut them off.

People who don't regularly use Bluetooth have it turned off -- myself included. But if you are using wireless headphones for music, a hands-free headset for music, phone calls, or a smartwatch of some sort? Bluetooth is on, and susceptible.

And regardless of your personal Bluetooth usage, this is a massive breach of privacy, and one that wasn't disclosed to the public by the City of New York.

-Devin Connors, Tech Editor.

Don't forget about the average user who is likely unaware of these things. As tech-savvy as some people are, the general average user is still unaware of most of the features of their devices, or if they are aware fairly clueless on security and just how those features work. I know a few folks who don't even know what bluetooth does exactly or even that they can turn it off.
Its unfortunate, but true.

OT: Really bad for the company image, one that could ultimately tank them. Sneaky practices won't work for long and when they're found out are never good for PR. I don't believe in the adage "any news is good advertising". Not in this age, people are likely to get really pissed when they find out their privacy is violated by anyone.

Americans still value their privacy AND there are still payphones just sitting in little kiosks or booths or whatever?!
"Wow. Just... Wow." ~ Spiderman

Zachary Amaranth:
I don't use the internet, so why is SOPA a problem for me?

I didn't say that this isn't a bad thing. I'm just wondering why someone wouldn't turn off their Bluetooth if they don't need it. You know that shit drains the battery by just being on, right?

Redflash:

FalloutJack:

Adam Jensen:
Do people actually go around with their Bluetooth turned on at all times? Why not just turn it on when you need it?

Adam, you're using common sense. That's not how people think. People are lazy and probably don't bother to shut them off.

FalloutJack:
Oh, I'm not arguing the privacy point. You're spot on, there. I just think it's likely that people don't even think about it.

People are indeed often lazy, and often don't even think about it. Just as people often are lazy and don't even think about thoroughly reading the article, where the writer gives two specific examples of why people might have their bluetooth turned on as they go about their business.

OT: Massive invasion of privacy, no public disclosure or discussion... hope the benefits to their advertising were worth all the massive fallout they're going to get now.

Not sure, but I think you're arguing with my point after agreeing with it?

Adam Jensen:

I didn't say that this isn't a bad thing. I'm just wondering why someone wouldn't turn off their Bluetooth if they don't need it. You know that shit drains the battery by just being on, right?

You understand your internet connection leaves you vulnerable to all sorts of cyber threats, right?

Zachary Amaranth:

Adam Jensen:

I didn't say that this isn't a bad thing. I'm just wondering why someone wouldn't turn off their Bluetooth if they don't need it. You know that shit drains the battery by just being on, right?

You understand your internet connection leaves you vulnerable to all sorts of cyber threats, right?

I know my way around computers so, no. Why not go further and blame electricity? It's not that hard to protect your electronic devices from cyber attacks.

And that's not even a good analogy. You can protect yourself from cyber attacks without turning off your internet connection. You can't stop your battery from being drained faster with Bluetooth on. No wonder so many people complain about their battery life. They keep so many apps on all the time for no reason, and then there's Bluetooth on top of that.

Adam Jensen:
You can protect yourself from cyber attacks without turning off your internet connection.

And you brush back on the reason this is actually an issue, before going back to battery life.

 

Reply to Thread

Log in or Register to Comment
Have an account? Login below:
With Facebook:Login With Facebook
or
Username:  
Password:  
  
Not registered? To sign up for an account with The Escapist:
Register With Facebook
Register With Facebook
or
Register for a free account here