Bryant Park mines data about you from your phone

Bryant Park Corporation employs new technology to raid cellphones for information about the crowd that travels to the park.

- While hundreds of aspiring yogis strike their best tree-poses on the Bryant Park grass Thursday evening, the Bryant Park Corporation employs new technology to raid their cell phones for information about this crowd that travels to the park for a group stretch.

"It's just like what we do every day in the park," park brand relations manager Matt Castellan said. "We take visitor counts every day with clickers."

Except instead of the informal numbers and maybe truthful answers to casual questions that Castellan and other employees gather from guests, the PlaceIQ system provides a far more detailed snapshot of the 8 million annual visitors to the park.

"Where people are traveling from, types of things they like to do, places they might bank for example," Castellan said.

When we download a free mobile app, we often consent to that app recording our location when and where we use it. PlaceIQ collects all that data from all those apps from every phone that enters Bryant Park.

None we encountered Thursday knew of this data-mining technology. And while a few felt uncomfortable with the park's use of it, most expressed indifference.

If these analytics tell Bryant Park one couple we met hails from Glasgow or Alex Melt -- a.k.a. "Magic Melt" -- frequents magic shops, neither party cared. But the park gains a big-data image of the shopping, traveling, and entertainment habits of its visitors that it can then present to woo various corporate sponsors.

"This is completely anonymous and there is no personal data attached to it," Castellan said.

Some hacker somewhere might disagree, but most stretching or catching Pokémon or simply sitting in the park Thursday evening didn't seem to care.  Bryant Park is the first city park to employ this technology.

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