In London, a company called Renew is setting up “smart” trash cans that are equipped with wifi. They reach out to pedestrians with their wifi tentacles and “track the proximity and speed of people walking past and identify the maker of their smartphone,” the Verge writes. You can also throw stuff away in them, I guess.
Why? Apparently just ‘cause. (Or in marketing speak, because it’s important to have “statistical analysis on ‘trending demographics.'” The Verge explains, “For example, if there are lots of iPhone or Galaxy S4 owners walking past a Pod, a retailer can work out how many consumers are likely to be in the area and range smartphone accessories to cater for them.”)
Even more creepily, the company that does the tracking is called Presence Orb. It says on its website “We understand that Presence Orb is not for everyone.” (It does not go on to say that the Presence Orb loves you, the Presence Orb is only concerned with your safety, and the Presence Orb has always been at war with Eastasia.) And it lets you opt out and all. But really, this is the sort of thing that we’d be more comfortable if you had to opt into, rather than opt out of.
At the very least, the trash cans — they’re called Renew Pods, by the way, speaking of terminology that sounds like scary sci-fi — could note things like pedestrian patterns and transit needs. If our smartphones are going to connect to a city and reveal all of our loves, hates, wants, good habits, bad habits, and hopes for the future, we’d rather that data go towards improving the city and our lives there, instead of the ease with which the shops around us can sell us things.