London Underground begins tracking passengers' journeys via Wi-Fi on devices

London Underground begins tracking passengers' journeys via Wi-Fi on devices

The London Underground has begun gathering information from customers in order to improve congestion within stations, the Transport for London (TFL) has said.

TFL said it has worked closely with the Information Commissioner's Office to ensure privacy concerns and transparency were actively considered and addressed.

The "depersonalised data collection" began on Monday and will "look to harness existing WI-FI connection data from more than 260 WI-FI enabled London Underground stations to understand how people navigate the network".

TFL insists that the system will automatically depersonalise data, with no browsing or historical data collected from any devices. It hopes that the depersonalised WI-FI data can then be used to "provide better, more targeted information to its customers as they move around London" and help them better plan their journeys to avoid congestion.

In 2016, TFL held a pilot test lasting four weeks to test WI-FI data collection technology across 54 of the 270 London Underground's stations within Zones 1 to 4. During this test, 509 million pieces of depersonalised data was collected from 5.6 million mobile devices. The information was then analysed by TFL's analytics team.

TFL offers a list of benefits for customers from using the data, such as:

  • Providing crowding data via TFL's website to help plan routes
  • Early warning via TFL and its social media channels about congestion at ticket stalls or platforms
  • Help TFL staff assist customers with the latest information and advise them about travel conditions

TFL notes that it could also incorporate the crowding data into TFL's app to allow app developers, academics and businesses to further utilise the data for new products and services.

It also states that the data will highlight the effectiveness and accountability of its advertising estate based on accurate volumes of customers. TFL says "Being able to reliably demonstrate this should improve commercial revenue which can then be reinvested back into the transport network."

Customers who do not wish for their data to be collected must turn the WI-FI off on their devices.

Chief Data Officer at Transport for London Lauren Sager Weinstein said:

"The benefits this new depersonalised dataset could unlock across our network—from providing customers with better alerts about overcrowding to helping station staff have a better understanding of the network in near-real time — are enormous.

"By better understanding overall patterns and flows, we can provide better information to our customers and help us plan and operate our transport network more effectively for all.

"While I am excited about the potential of this new dataset, I am equally mindful of the responsibility that comes with it. We take our customers' privacy extremely seriously and will not identify individuals from the Wi-Fi data collected.

"Transparency, privacy and ethics need to be at the forefront of data work in society and we recognise the trust that our customers place in us, and safeguarding our customers' data is absolutely fundamental."

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