London Underground to track passengers through Wi-Fi hotspots


Transport for London (TfL) is planning to introduce a system to track commuters who makes use of public Wi-Fi hotspots across the London Underground in the upcoming months.

The UK transport agency stated that the secure, privacy-protected data collection will start on 8 July 2019 and later on to add improved customer services that includes warnings regarding delays and station congestion by the end of this year.

The rollout builds upon a trial of the technology in 2016. During that time, TfL said the four-week test was launched to give them a more accurate understanding of how people move through stations, interchange between services and how crowding develops.

Currently, TfL says that tracking the data generated by commuters will also give the agency an insight in where to prioritize transport investment.

Wi-Fi hotspots were introduced during the pilot across 54 stations within Zones 1 to 4. If a passenger had Wi-Fi enabled, the hotspots would record connection attempts and connectivity searches through their MAC addresses.

During the four weeks’ time, more than 509 million pieces of data were collected from 5.6 million mobile devices across 42 million journeys.

But now, the information to be collected will increase exponentially. Only connection requests are collected, and no browsing activities or histories are accessed.

The main aim of TfL is to generate information on the network through more than 260 Wi-Fi access points in the Underground without the need of any travel records obtained from the tickets.

At present, TfL collects the data from its ticketing system to learn about the journeys made across the network. Even though the data is accurate for people entering and exiting the stations, it cannot show the flow of movement through a station. Instead, when a depersonalized Wi-Fi data is used, it will be more accurate, almost real-time, understanding of the flow of people through stations or interchanging between services.

TfL believes that the data may finally be used to give commuters up-to-date information on crowding through the transport authority’s website and apps and also to boost ad revenue by tracking footfall more accurately.

The data is depersonalized and the data collection will be enabled by default. Those commuters who needs to opt-out must have their Wi-Fi setting turned off or Flight Mode enabled while they enter the Underground.

TfL assures that they have worked closely with the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) in the handling of data management and transparency.

Customers will soon see posters and notices warning them of the upcoming infrastructure changes, and while the technology is rolled out and tested across the Wi-Fi network, data will not be stored.

Priyanka R
Cyber Security Enthusiast, Security Blogger, Technical Editor, Author at Cyber Safe News

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