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Is your bus stop watching you again?

Company pledges again to cover uncovered Vancouver cameras, city checking
The next time you’re at a transit shelter with a digital advertising sign, look closely at the sign’s frame. At eye level in the black, side border, you’ll find a thumbnail-sized camera

Cameras in Vancouver transit-stop advertising displays are no longer covered up as was promised and more such displays with cameras are being installed.

However, the companies involved maintain the cameras cannot be used to watch people or gather information about them.

At first, bus shelters with cameras in them were found in Vancouver but more have appeared in West Vancouver, operated by a Jimmy Pattison company. Those in Vancouver are operated by an Outlook-JCDecaux partnership.

The question for people passing such cameras on shelters is: what can this technology be used for?

JCDecaux has made significant advances in the use of bus shelters for advertising using so-called augmented reality involving image projections and cameras in shelters. One eye-popping Pepsi project in the U.K. capital, featured UFO’s and wild animals as well as the people watching the images. The presence of a camera in the shelter is readily noticeable.

A video on that London project garnered 8.48 million YouTube views. When Glacier Media first reported on this situation, the video was publicly available. It is now private.

And, other companies have acknowledged cameras are used to profile customers using facial recognition.

Samsung, for example, said as part of its augmented reality campaigns, “cameras would detect the audience profile, which consisted of age, gender, expression, composition, and engagement. Based on that profile, one of the thirty videos would play to engage the prospect.”

So, the next time you’re at a transit shelter with a digital advertising sign, look closely at the sign’s frame. At eye level in the black, side border, you’ll find a thumbnail-sized camera.

Glacier Media revealed the presence of the cameras two years ago, prompting denials from both the City of Vancouver and Translink that the street furniture cameras had anything to do with them.

But the city is involved.

Outlook-JCDecaux signed a 20-year agreement with the city in 2004 to provide street furniture in exchange for advertising revenues.

“Bus shelters in Vancouver are provided by Outfront Media and JCDecaux, which supplies and maintains street furniture in the city in exchange for rights to the transit shelter advertising,” city transit project spokesperson Shannon Brennan said.

“The cameras lenses on the advertising panels are non-operational and governed by a factory setting that is not functional or enabled. Since the installation of these panels, the cameras have been unable to collect images or any other information, and will remain so,” Brennan said.

Further, Brennan said there are no planned installations of more digital ad panels at this time. 

Brennan said the contract between JCDecaux and the city requires the company to comply with all local, provincial and federal regulations - including those that govern privacy.

TransLink spokesperson Jillian Drews said the bus shelters in question are not TransLink property and it has no authority to regulate any advertising at these sites. 

“Bus shelters are most often the property of the municipality they are located in, which is the City of Vancouver in this case,” Drews said. “There are no cameras present in any advertising infrastructure that belongs to TransLink.

After concerns were raised through the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and the provincial Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC), the company pledged (via the city) that the cameras it said were inoperative would be covered.

However, a survey of the original downtown bus stops shows the cameras are visible. Further, there are new such cameras that can be found with two at each of Davie and Mainland Streets, Robson and Richards and West Broadway and Cambie. There are four at Robson and Granville.

Outfront / JCDecaux Street Furniture co-president Francois Nion said the commitment to cover the cameras remains unchanged.

“We take the privacy of the people of Vancouver seriously, we never connected the cameras and we have no intention to do so,” Nion said. “Nothing has changed from the initial installation you mentioned in your article at the time.

“We checked all the screens earlier this week and replaced the sticker or re-replied for any that were missing,” Nion said. “This sticker covers the tiny inactivated camera located in the frame.

And, Brennan said that is being confirmed.

“Steps are currently being taken by the city to ensure that any bus shelter cameras that may no longer be covered by tape are being identified in an effort to address any outstanding concerns regarding cameras on some of the advertising panels,” Brennan said.

In West Vancouver, the district has an agreement with Pattison Outdoor Advertising for transit shelters, including four transit shelters with digital advertising displays, spokesperson Michaela Garston.

“Each of the four transit shelters that feature digital advertising contain a camera,” Garstin said. “Pattison Outdoor Advertising has informed us that in these locations, their camera’s view is pointed directly at the digital advertisement, and is only activated between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. to capture images for proof of performance for Pattison’s customers. The non-digital locations do not have cameras.”

District of North Vancouver spokesperson Cassie Brondgeest said the municipality does not have any shelters with digital advertising and is not in discussions to acquire any.

Richmond spokesperson Clay Adams said the city does have a number of digital transit shelters, again with Pattison Outdoor. 

“Those shelters have a camera at one end that is used to identify if maintenance is required and confirm placement of the digital ads. It is only activated briefly at 4:00 a.m. as it is highly unlikely anyone will be in the shelter at that time,” Adams said.

The same applies in Burnaby, said spokesperson Chris Bryan.

Short answer is, we have a contract with Pattison Outdoor. 

“I’m told they don’t use AVA (anonymous video analytics) camera, but rather a camera that takes shots of the ads in the middle of the night, for maintenance purposes and to confirm for the client the ads are indeed running,” Bryan said.

The same applies to Surrey.

“We have digital,” said spokesperson Amber Stowe. “It’s all done through Pattison.”

With the new cameras located, the OIPC reached out to TransLink to get an update.

“We looked into this issue previously and our understanding at the time was and still is that the cameras were not in use, and would not be used,” OIPC spokesperson Michelle Mitchell said. “Regarding the new shelters, we do not have any information that the use of cameras differs from the above.”
Mitchell said the OIPC was following up with TransLink.

 Further, she said, if anyone has concerns about personal information collected by a public body, they should first contact the public body. 

“If after 30 days the individual isn’t satisfied with the response, they can make a complaint with our office,” Mitchell said.

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