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Transport for London to collect Wi-Fi data at stations

22/05/19

Mark Say Managing Editor

Transport for London (TfL) is to begin collecting depersonalised data through the London Underground Wi-Fi network to provide guidance to travellers.

Underground train at platform

It is planning to begin the collection from 8 July, harnessing information on Wi-Fi connections from more than 260 stations.

It said the system, which has been developed in-house, will automatically depersonalise the data and will not collect any browsing or historical details from any devices. There has also been a detailed digital mapping of Wi-Fi routers in the stations to help in understanding how people move through them and across the network.

TfL pointed to a number of potential uses of the data, including providing warnings of crowding at specific stations through its website and social media, and sending information to station staff to help them in assisting customers.

It could also include the data in its open data API, which enables app developers, businesses and academics to use it in products and services.

Enormous benefits

Lauren Sager Weinstein, chief data officer at TfL, 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.”

TfL said it worked with key stakeholders and the Information Commissioner’s Office to deal with any privacy concerns.

It currently uses data from its ticketing system to understand how journeys are made. While this provides an accurate picture of people entering and leaving stations it does not show how they move through them.

Previous pilot

In 2016 TfL ran a four-week pilot to test the Wi-Fi data collection technology across 54 stations. It spots the network connection requests from devices with their Wi-Fi enabled.

This provided more than 509 million depersonalised pieces of data from 5.6 million devices making around 42 million journeys. Among the findings was that customers travelling between King’s Cross St Pancras and Waterloo take at least 18 different routes, with around 40% not taking one of the two most popular routes.

Another purpose for which the data could be used is to assess the effectiveness of advertising at Underground stations.

Image from TfL

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