TfL to track Tube users in stations by their MAC addresses

Data to be crunched in on-premises bit barn, transport types confirm


Transport for London is to start a four week trial of reading Wi-Fi connection request data from London Underground passengers’ mobile phones.

The trial, which will last four weeks from 21 November, “will help give TfL a more accurate understanding of how people move through stations, interchange between services and how crowding develops,” according to the transport authority.

The idea is to develop a more accurate picture of how passengers make interchanges on the Tube network.

Data available to TfL at present only records where people enter the London Underground and where they leave it, meaning figuring out their movements in between those points is a matter of educated guesswork.

“The trial will work by collecting Wi-Fi connection requests from mobile devices as customers pass through stations. When a device has Wi-Fi enabled, it will continually search for a Wi-Fi network by sending out a unique identifier – known as a Media Access Control address – to nearby routers,” TfL stated.

Once TfL has slurped the phones’ and tablets’ MAC addresses, the data is “automatically de-personalised” and sent to their private bit barn for data crunching and analysis.

In addition to tracking people’s movements by analysing where their MAC addresses pop up within the Tube network, TfL also hopes to use this data to get higher prices for advertising spots at busy areas inside Tube stations.

Shashi Verma, TfL’s CTO, said in a canned quote:

“This short trial will help us understand whether Wi-Fi connection data could help us plan and operate our transport network more effectively for customers. Historically, if we wanted to know how people travelled we would have to rely on paper surveys and manual counting, which is expensive, time consuming and limited in detail and reliability. We hope the results of this trial will enable us to provide customers with even better information for journey planning and avoiding congestion.”

Some months ago TfL carried out a two-day pilot study along the same lines to figure out whether the concept was practical. At the time Virgin Media, which operates the public-facing Wi-Fi network on London Underground stations, said it “doesn’t record any data on usage of the service and doesn’t track individual devices movement across any of Transport for London’s networks including London Underground.”

For the privacy-conscious Londoner, the easiest way to not be tracked is to switch off your Wi-Fi. ®


Other stories you might like

  • Japan picks AWS and Google for first gov cloud push

    Local players passed over for Digital Agency’s first project

    Japan's Digital Agency has picked Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud for its first big reform push.

    The Agency started operations in September 2021, years after efforts like the UK's Government Digital Service (GDS) or Australia's Digital Transformation Agency (DTA). The body was a signature reform initiated by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who spent his year-long stint in the top job trying to curb Japan's reliance on paper documents, manual processes, and faxes. Japan's many government agencies also operated their websites independently of each other, most with their own design and interface.

    The new Agency therefore has a remit to "cut across all ministries" and "provide services that are driven not toward ministries, agency, laws, or systems, but toward users and to improve user-experience".

    Continue reading
  • Singaporean minister touts internet 'kill switch' that finds kids reading net nasties and cuts 'em off ASAP

    Fancies a real-time crowdsourced content rating scheme too

    A Minister in the Singapore government has suggested the creation of an internet kill switch that would prevent minors from reading questionable material online – perhaps using ratings of content created in real time by crowdsourced contributors.

    "The post-COVID world will bring new challenges globally, including to us in the security arena," said Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen at a Tuesday ceremony to award the city-state's 2021 Defense Technology Prize.

    "For operations, the SAF (Singapore Armed Force) has to expand its capabilities in the digital domain. Whether for administrative or operational purposes, I think that we will need to leverage technology to the maximum," he declared.

    Continue reading
  • China Telecom booted out of USA as Feds worry it could disrupt or spy on local networks

    FCC urges more action against Huawei and DJI, too

    The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has terminated China Telecom's authority to provide communications services in the USA.

    In its announcement of the termination, the government agency explained the decision is necessary because the national security environment has changed in the years since 2002. That was when China Telecom was first allowed to operate in the USA.

    The FCC now believes – partly based on classified advice from national security agencies – that China Telecom can "access, store, disrupt, and/or misroute US communications, which in turn allow them to engage in espionage and other harmful activities against the United States." And because China Telecom is state-controlled, China's government can compel the carrier to act as it sees fit, without judicial review or oversight.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021