UK Smart City Digital Posters Popular With Drug Dealers

February 11, 2019 by Dave Haynes

An industry friend turned me on to what has becoming an ongoing issue with the “smart city” kiosks being installed in big cities around the UK. Turns out the digital information stations are really popular with drug dealers.

The big LinkUK digital slabs – that are either the same or very close to the same as the LinkNYC kiosks in New York – offer free phone calls to UK numbers, including mobiles. That enables people to call dealers’ phones, order drugs and give a location.

The stations are going in via Intersection, which is backed in the UK by British Telecom. They are going in by the hundreds, replacing old phone boxes. They feature:

  • Free Wi-Fi;
  • Free UK landline and mobile calls;
  • Free mobile device charging;
  • Free access to maps, directions and local and emergency services;
  • Two large HD displays for digital advertising, PSAs and local content.

London’s Metropolitan Police Service filed a recent report objecting to plans to install more units in rougher parts of the city. “A recent investigation found that over a 105-day period five of these units were used over 20,000 times in connection with drug misuse,” wrote PC Kevin Hook, an officer with the Tower Hamlets police station.

The police suggest an average of 20 drug deals were done every day, on a handful of kiosks on streets in the central London areas of Whitechapel, Bethnal Green and Commercial Road.

At one point a local council police halted the installs, but I am not sure that’s the case now. In at least one area the free calling feature was disabled.

These kinds of smart city systems are often equipped with things like touchscreens for browsing, free VOIP phone calls and charging ports. The “smart” aspects of the stations make the dubious argument that these things are more than just digital posters. But they would not exist were it not for the big screens on both sides running booked digital OOH advertising spots in tight rotations.

The complementary things – like the phones and screens – have been subject to no end of vandalism problems, and in New York, the browser screens were being used to watch porn.

  1. John Zib says:

    Hi Dave and good to run into you at Ergo Concepts booth at ISE.
    ISE update – Friday was light traffic, not a bad day to visit as access was good and could talk with exhibitors about the event.
    I agree that all the business and design intention cannot make up for the realities of feasible misuse as the starting point. Things happen, as they say. We can also consider who most of the projects you spoke about where funded by and designed for? Certainly not the people using these locally.
    On the other side, I work with European Smart City projects on the theme of Citizen Engagment. Coming from this sector, my take is that there is interesting new potential for ISE as a tech sector can really add value to public facing solutions. I found ready to implement solutions that are stackable: emotion sensing, AI, blockchain, AR, new interface capabilities and transactional services.
    It’s also about using the right tech in the right place/time. These may just work in NYC or London, possibly another environment like Ljubljana.

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