An advertising firm in Britain has stopped using “spy bins” after an outcry from privacy watchdogs and the City of London.

The ad firm Renew was using a network of high-tech trash cans to track people walking through London’s financial district. It has been using technology embedded in the hulking receptacles to measure the Wi-Fi signals emitted by smartphones, and suggested that it would apply the concept of “cookies” — tracking files that follow Internet users across the Web — to the physical world and advertising.

“We will cookie the street,” Renew chief executive Kaveh Memari said in June.

The prospect has caused outraged and drew comparisons to the creepy “Good evening, John Anderton” ads from the Tom Cruise thriller Minority Report.

Britain’s data protection watchdog said it would investigate, while Nick Pickles of the privacy advocacy group Big Brother Watch said questions need to be asked “about how such a blatant attack on people’s privacy was able to occur.”

The City of London Corporation has insisted that Renew pull the plug on the program.

“Anything that happens like this on the streets needs to be done carefully, with the backing of an informed public,” read a statement from the City of London Corporation, which is responsible for the city’s historic “square mile,” home to financial institutions, law firms and tourist landmarks...
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