NYC now has hundreds of ad beacons in phone booths (update: mayor orders them removed)

Buzzfeed has learned that New York City allowed hundreds of bluetooth beacons to be installed without public consultation, a decision that has roused the ire of privacy groups. Outdoor ad outfit Titan installed around 500 Gimbal beacons in phone booths around Manhattan, skirting normal red tape by saying they were deployed for maintenance purposes only. However, it admitted it's also using them to decide when to rotate ad panels and recently pushed smartphone ads to Tribeca Film Festival participants. The devices can also pick up location and time data, though Titan told the NY Daily News that it is "absolutely, categorically not" doing so unless users opt in and install a third-party app.

Titan employs such hardware elsewhere for its advertiser "Profile" service, and its own literature says it can predict information like age, gender, income and ethnicity about users. Those claims have alarmed privacy groups like the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), however. It's worried about the intrusive nature of the tech, and said "the lack of transparency about this data-mining operation is... of even greater concern." Meanwhile, both Titan and New York City's tech regulators emphasized that the devices are in use on a test basis only, and would require explicit city approval to be commercialized. With 500 already installed, however, it sounds like commercialization is a foregone conclusion.

Update: Well, just hours after it came to light that Titan has installed hundreds of ad beacons across New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio has requested they be removed. A spokesperson for City Hall told BuzzFeed, "the beacons will be removed over the coming days."

[Image credit: AFP/Getty Images]