The world’s oldest underground railway system could be taking a big step into the future. During a four-week trial in 2016, Transport For London (TfL) collected data from passengers’ phones over wi-fi in order to track movement. Now TfL may be putting the scheme in place. The purpose of the scheme is that with this data TfL can help prevent overcrowding and give passengers more accurate and tailored travel routes.
With a better sense of where crowding is, TfL will be able to get trains to ease overcrowded stations and platforms. By having an insight into how people move through stations they can understand how overcrowding occurs in the first place. Additionally, if TfL have live information about which trains and platforms are the most crowded it can provide its passengers with information about routes suited to them. So if you want, for example, you could take a route during rush hour that is less crowded but takes slightly longer. The pilot scheme cost £100,000 and took 509 million pieces of data from 5.6 million mobile devices over 54 stations.
The data is completely depersonalised, therefore no one individual can be identified. Nevertheless privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch have expressed their concern. Chief executive Renate Samson said on their behalf that “analysing movements of people via their device may provide unique analytical benefit, but is still a process of tracking and monitoring as they go about their daily business.”
The concern is understandable but this manner of data collection will only get more ubiquitous with time. But as long as this kind of data collection is used to help customers rather than profit from them, it could be the right step into the future.