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NYC Phone Booths Could Be Tracking You

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"...lack of transparency..."

Image via Chris Ford / flickr

In the age of the cellphone, you're probably not using phone booths — but the phone booths could be using you.

Image via Chris Ford / flickr Image via Chris Ford/flickr

The outdoor media company Titan, ad space broker for 5,000 New York City phone kiosks, has installed some 500 people-tracking "beacons" in phone booths throughout the Big Apple, BuzzFeed reported Monday, and while the city's Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications OK'd the installation, the public was never apprised of the plan.

Image via Jim Pennucci / flickr Image via Jim Pennucci/flickr

How do the beacons work?

They're Bluetooth devices, emitting basic signals that smartphones pick up.

Manufactured by the San Diego-based company Gimbal, the beacons can gather simple data — such as the time of day you walk by one — to much more extensive information (through Gimbal-powered apps) about what websites you visit, all while you remain unaware that your data is being collected.

BuzzFeed reported that the beacons were installed between September and November 2013.

The installation of beacons without the public's knowledge or prior input is of grave concern, New York Civil Liberties Union executive director Donna Lieberman told BuzzFeed.

“To the extent that the city is involved in this, the lack of transparency [is] of even greater concern,” she said.

Read BuzzFeed's report here.

Follow Zach Noble (@thezachnoble) on Twitter

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