TECHNOLOGY

Digital kiosks found in 18 states-maybe yours-accused of grabbing data from nearby phones

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Digital kiosks found in 18 states-maybe yours-accused of grabbing data from nearby phones

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Digital kiosks found in 18 states-maybe yours-accused of grabbing data from nearby phones


Seven-foot digital kiosks that look like giant Amazon Kindles are collecting personal data from the smartphones of people walking by the kiosks. The smartphone owners are completely unaware that their data is being grabbed by these digital signs that have been produced by a tech and advertising company called Soofa. The digital kiosks have been placed in 18 states including Massachusetts where the town of Brookline approved the installation of these signs six years ago,

When it comes to these large screens, Brookline Town Administrator Chas Carey says that they provide users with useful information. He states that each one “…provides town information with calendars. There are little question-and-answer things that people can engage with.”  

Carey even has an answer to those who say that these digital signs are collecting the personal data of smartphone users without their knowledge. “We use that information to make sure that the messages are being effective, are effectively reaching the community,” he says.  

The digital kiosks are solar-powered and contain “state-of-the-art sensors” with “the ability to measure and analyze” the cellphone data of people standing within feet of each screen. The CEO of video game maker Big Fish, David Gerzof Richard, pointed out that “Even at the most basic level, your cellphone data actually gives out a lot of information,” While he feels that the technology is useful for marketing firms, there are some risks to consumers. “Once this data is created, it’s stored someplace,” said Gerzof said. “How are they protecting it, and are they selling it?”

Soofa, the company behind the kiosks, says that it is not collecting any data that can be used to identify a person. A device’s MAC address (media access control address) is collected. This is a unique identifier in the form of a 12-digit hexadecimal number assigned to each device on a network. The company’s statement reads, “Soofa does not collect any identifying data from a person or device. No other information beyond the MAC address is being collected, no data correlation is performed and the information is not shared with any 3rd party.”

Towns and cities love these kiosks because they provide them with a percentage of advertising sales. However, the size of this “cut” is said to be “trivial” according to John VanScoyoc, the Vice-Chair of Brookline’s Select Board. He says that the kiosks are not worth having in the town. “They are frankly an intrusion on the public space for the purposes of a company that wants to make a profit. And I’m just against that as a general principle.”

Town Administrator Carey says that Brookline’s contract with Soofa expires next year when it will be up for renewal. At that time, the town will determine whether the kiosks have been useful to those living in or visiting Brookline. Over the next two months, Brookline plans on using the kiosks to broadcast public service announcements and to track data during the Boston Marathon which will be held on April 15th.



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