For four weeks at the end of 2016, Transport for London (TfL) tracked Londoners via their phones. The experiment — carried out at 54 stations on the network — was implemented with a view to optimising journeys, among other things.
The movements of anyone who had their Wi-Fi switched on while in range of a TfL hotspot from 21 November-19 December 2016 will have been picked up. Orwellian as that might sound, TfL was transparent about the whole thing, clearly advertising what was going on. Data was encrypted and the only information TfL took was the location of individuals.
So, now you've breathed a sigh of relief, what did TfL actually find out? Well, among other things:
- How passengers move between tube stations (currently Oysters only record the start and end of the journey).
- How passengers move within specific tube stations (to help TfL understand crowding).
- The same analytics above can be used to estimate footfall, and charge for advertising on the network accordingly.
A fantastic, in-depth report — complete with infographics and graphs — has been published by technology site Gizmodo. We highly recommend you check it out.
What next? It's possible tube station tracking could become a permanent thing. It's possible, too, that in the future it'll be used on a London-wide scale to capture the movements of all commuters, and optimise their routes.