Los Angeles just loves to look at advertising on bus benches and now the benches are watching us back. Buzzfeed has found that an estimated 250 benches were outfitted with bluetooth beacons that would give users information based on their location. Don't worry: the beacons, manufactured by a company called Gimbal, aren't designed to collect information on you, they only watch where you go! Five hundred of Gimbal's beacons were taken out of New York City phonebooths this month after BuzzFeed revealed their existence.
Smartphone apps that use Gimbal's technology are required to ask uses to "opt-in" before the app notes your location and sends beacon-triggered messages; after the initial "ok," every time a user passes a beacon, the phone sends "information about the encounter — including the phone's 'unique identifier', its location, and the time of day" to Gimbal. Sure, the system could alert people to necessary services in case of a disaster, for example, but the company's plan seems to be to use the information to sell you stuff. UPDATE 10/24: The Bureau of Street Services released a statement saying the beacons are not activated yet and do not yet work with any app; they say they'll review the opt-in policy before they authorize activation.
The program was announced in a press release from Martin that very few people seem to have seen, but before that release went out, Gimbal was already courting advertisers, touting the program as a great way to "understand your audience's traffic patterns to help build an even more targeted message in the future." In LA, the beacons were installed on "less than 5 percent" of the city's estimated 5,000 bus benches, assures the CEO of Martin Outdoor Advertising, the company that handles the bus seating in LA, so it's a low percentage of complete creepiness.
· Hidden "Beacons" Were Also Installed In L.A. And Chicago [Buzzfeed]
· Martin Outdoor Initiates Pilot Beacon Technology Program in the City of Los Angeles [PRN]
· Meet Your New Green Bus Benches, Still Big Advertisements [Curbed LA]