Transport For London will start collecting traveler data through WI-FI, by default without consent

TfL says if you don't like it, turn your Wi-Fi off.


Transport for London (TfL) is going to collect commuter data through Wi-Fi. It tested out the program in 2016 by running a pilot program for four weeks where it collected data from nearly 5.6 million mobile devices.

The agency says that while privacy concerns exist, TfL can now avoid building new Tube lines or purchasing new trains as it can use the current ones with increased efficiency. Until now, TfL typically knew when commuters entered and left the system, but it didn’t have any information about what they did in-between.

However, from now on, TfL will know where commuters go and what they do between entering and exiting the system as they plan to use Wi-Fi signals to scoop up data from travelers.  TfL aims to improve customer experience by collecting data and implementing several solutions and measures based on the information it collects.

For instance, here are a few things that can be implemented based on the insights from the customer data:

  1. Improved journey planning and personalized information. Commuters could be sent push-notifications or messages at every stage of their journey.
  2. Commuters could receive route suggestions to avoid overcrowding.
  3. In cases where a particular train is overcrowded, commuters can be asked to board an alternative train or the next one which will be less crowded.
  4. It could help commuters discover short-cuts and less crowded routes that only hardcore commuters are aware of.
  5. When there is a disruption such as the shutting down of Waterloo and City Line, the TfL could easily understand where the problem was.
  6. Improved transport planning and understand which lines needed capacity upgrades.

TfL shockingly says that users can opt out of the service by turning off the Wi-Fi option in their phone, meaning that the system is going to be opt-out instead of opt-in.

TfL also said that they shall be clearly mentioning the fact that they are collecting user data by putting signposts describing the same. If this goes ahead it would be surprising if this wasn't against GDPR laws that make it very clear explicit consent is needed in order to collect people's data.

However, Lauren Sager Weinstein, TfL’s chief data officer, says “Transparency, privacy and ethics need to be at the forefront of data work in society and we recognize the trust that our customers place in us,” she said.

At a point of time where building new lines and so on is expensive and time-taking, this new system will help TfL make the most with the resources at hand. With regard to the privacy concerns, a spokesperson of TfL said that all user data will be encrypted and only a few employees with training in data protection will access the data.


Naga Pramod

Naga Pramod is a computer science major and tech news reporter with a passion for cyber security, networking, and data science. [email protected]