Home > Uncategorized > What is Sidewalks Labs’ business model?

What is Sidewalks Labs’ business model?

July 2, 2015

You might have heard about Sidewalk Labs, which is backed by Google and plans to repurpose phone booths all over New York City as wifi hubs. They are also planning to install large advertising screens on the sides of the phone booths to display dynamic advertising to passersby. A few comments and questions.

  • When you use that wifi, they can track what you do.
  • Even if you don’t use it, if you walk by with a wifi-enabled device (smart phone), the phone booth will sense your device and tag you.
  • Presumably this is not charity. They will expect to make ad revenue with their screens.
  • Best guess: they will tailor the advertisements depending on who is walking by and what they’re doing.
  • The overall negotiation then is that we are willing to exchange free wifi for having our experience in a public space tracked by a private company. I’m not sure we are all thinking that’s a good deal.
  • They plan to do it in other cities, using street lamps and bus shelters as well.
  • Prepare to enter into a realm of existence one step closer to Blade Runner.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Josh
    July 2, 2015 at 8:59 am

    Forgetting all the other implications, “dynamic ads” aka flashing billboards will be bad enough as shown by what NYC has already done with bus shelters and subway entrances.

    For the other stuff, worth getting one of the increasingly rare devices that allow you to take the battery out.


    • Auros
      July 4, 2015 at 6:13 am

      I really want to see a study of accident rates on stretches of highway before and after LED billboards went up. I strongly suspect that those things are literally killing people. (Though on the bright side, when we get self-driving cars, that may become a non-issue.)


  2. Brandon
    July 2, 2015 at 9:15 am

    Hope they don’t show me an ED ad as I walk by :% #embarrassing!


  3. ax42
    July 2, 2015 at 9:43 am

    “Even if you don’t use it, if you walk by with a wifi-enabled device (smart phone), the phone booth will sense your device and tag you.”

    Unless you have a (gasp) iPhone, in which case it will provide a randomised MAC address to the network — specifically to make this type of tracking much harder. Only works if you don’t use the WiFi though. Search for “iPhone MAC randomisation” for more details.


    • July 2, 2015 at 10:11 am

      Hmm… that doesn’t seem to work too well, according to this: http://www.imore.com/closer-look-ios-8s-mac-randomization


      • ax42
        July 2, 2015 at 10:28 am

        Hence my caveat of “Only works if you don’t use the WiFi though”. If you’re using the service (i.e. your phone logs you in because you’ve allowed it to join that network), you can be tracked. If you’re just walking by, the hotspot just gets a throwaway token.


  4. DJ
    July 2, 2015 at 10:05 am

    I don’t see how this is any different from what cell phone companies already do with your smartphones, except that smartphone companies charge their users a monthly fee instead of relying on advertising.


  5. July 2, 2015 at 10:28 am

    just create a VPN server at home and route your phone traffic through it. It is not that hard : see openvpn.net


  6. July 2, 2015 at 11:07 am

    I guess even cellphone companies can also track our location. They are doing it and it’s a valuable information in solving many crime mysteries. But agree it feels uncomfortable if a private company can track about our where we are.


  7. constantinecostes
    July 2, 2015 at 11:11 am

    Cf. advertising in Minority Report: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7bXJ_obaiYQ


  8. July 2, 2015 at 12:44 pm

    Makes me glad I still don’t even have a dumb cell phone.


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