TfL Wants to Know Your Every Move When You Use the London Underground

By Shabana Arif on at

Transport for London (TfL) is moving ahead with its plan to track everyone who sets foot in the London Underground using WiFi to keep tabs on them. So that's nice.

A tracking trial was run back in 2016 with TfL’s chief data officer, Lauren Sager Weinstein, explaining that tracking people using the Oyster card system wasn't producing enough data, as their behaviour once they were past the barrier was unknown.

"You touch in and you touch out... but that meant there was a big question mark about travel within central London in particular when you have multiple different ways of travelling around the network”, she explains. “So we thought: Is there some potential here to use this as a data source when we have the wifi on the tube to take patterns and look at the patterns from this dataset as well?” she said at the time.

Wired reports that the intrusive system will be going live across the entirety of London's Underground network starting on July 8, and if you don't want to be a part of it, you can just turn off your WiFi - which is almost tantamount to cutting off a limb these days. You might even accidentally make eye contact with someone. The horror!

"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," Weinstein said. "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.”

In yet another step towards less privacy for more convenience,  the measures TfL will use to protect privacy won't provide commuters with complete anonymity, so if you want to opt out of having your every movement scrutinised on the tube, turn off your WiFi. If you'd prefer to hand over your data to improve the Underground services, then carry on.

Featured image: Joseph Balzano on Unsplash