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Digital Dumpster diving: A trashcan that reports on what you throw away

Evan Schuman | May 6, 2015
GeniCan scans and figures out almost everything you are throwing away or recycling and wirelessly transmits that data back to the mother ship.

When I told Griffin that, he countered that there are times when you don't want to touch your phone, for example when throwing out something messy like raw chicken. That, he said, is where the voice recognition makes more sense. The problem with that is that GeniCan's voice recognition offers no verification. So you get to the store with your garbage can's shopping list and find that you're supposed to be in need of bongos, chosen fruit and Lego bricks. Something doesn't seem right to you. Don't worry; you can ask the app to play back the original audio file, and assuming that you can hear it well enough in the crowded supermarket, you will discover that what you really need are mangos, frozen shrimp and potato chips.

But the real problem with this device, and a lot of other things imagined for the IoT, is that they are a marketer's — and an identify thief's — dream come true. Everything you throw out is analyzed and catalogued and broadcast out to the device's maker and, from there, to wherever that vendor wants to dispatch it.

On its website, GeniCan does try to address this concern. "GeniCan stores all grocery list items independently from personally identifiable information, and we do not share individual grocery lists or provide data to delivery services (or any other party) without consent of the user," the site says. "GeniCan matches third-party coupons by UPC codes and product type information only, we do not use or send personally identifiable information."

Let's take these claims one at a time. The app "stores all grocery list items independently from personally identifiable information." Hmm, interesting. You see, the app sends coupons to customers based on what they throw away. For that to work, doesn't the grocery list need to be connected to personally identifiable information?

"We do not share individual grocery lists or provide data to delivery services (or any other party) without consent of the user." Is that an active consent or a "click here to download after you accept our terms and conditions" kind of consent? It's the ability to send out offers to an individual's phone that make it all but impossible to entirely avoid identifiable data. The company can decide to not leverage that data, but that's a very big incentive to resist.

Griffin confirmed that his team will have identifiable data, but stresses that the company has chosen to not share that with marketers. "Privacy is super important. The actual items on your grocery list are private" other than for people who are granted access, such as family members, Griffin said. OK, but what is to stop the company from making a different choice about all of this down the road? This means that shoppers must fully trust Griffin's team to maintain their privacy, even though there will be massive industry pressures on them to sell it. The CEO said that the only elements that are being shared are email addresses and ZIP codes. But what about geolocation? He said that the company will grab location data when a shopper reports being inside a store. "When you click store mode, in order to verify which store you're in," GeniCan will do a location check, Griffin said.


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