LINKNYC KIOSKS HAVE become a familiar eyesore to New Yorkers. Over 1,600 of these towering, nine-and-a-half-foot monoliths — their double-sided screens festooned with ads and fun facts — have been installed across the city since early 2016. Mayor Bill de Blasio has celebrated their ability to provide “the fastest and largest municipal Wi-Fi network in the world” as “a critical step toward a more equal, open, and connected city for every New Yorker, in every borough.” Anyone can use the kiosks’ Android tablets to search for directions and services; they are also equipped with charging stations, 911 buttons, and phones for free domestic calls.
But even as the kiosks have provided important services to connect New Yorkers, they may also represent a troubling expansion of the city’s surveillance network, potentially connecting every borough to a new level of invasive monitoring. Each kiosk has three cameras, 30 sensors, and heightened sight lines for viewing above crowds.
Since plans for LinkNYC were first unveiled, journalists, residents, and civil liberties experts have raised concerns that the internet kiosks might be storing sensitive data about its users and possibly tracking their movements. For the last two years, the American Civil Liberties Union, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and a small but vocal group of activists — including ReThink LinkNYC, a grassroots anti-surveillance group, and the anonymous Stop LinkNYC coalition — have highlighted the kiosk’s potential to track locations, collect personal information, and fuel mass surveillance.
Now an undergraduate researcher has discovered indications in LinkNYC code — accidentally made public on the internet — that LinkNYC may be actively planning to track users’ locations.
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