TRANSPORT FOR LONDON (TfL) has announced plans to start using tube passenger phone data to improve the service from July this year.
TfL will do this by tracking MAC addresses - a unique identifier on any WiFi-connected device to get an idea of where people are at any given time. This could be used to advise people on busy times at stations, and may even be used to improve passenger flow at individual stations.
No word as yet as to whether it'll be used to bring back the death penalty for people who don't take their rucksacks off on crowded carriages, but here's hoping.
The data collection will start on Monday 8 July and will initially be used to alert travellers about delays and overcrowded stations. In the long run, passengers may even be given insights as to how busy the next train along is going to be, allowing them to decide whether or not to hang back.
Third-party apps that tap into TfL data will also benefit from this - in other words, Google Maps may seem a bit smarter at knowing when to tell you to bus somewhere instead.
Crucially, TfL will be able to use this data to see which parts of the network are struggling with an influx of grumpy passengers. Or rather, which bits are most struggling with an influx of grumpy passengers. This will help the operators prioritise infrastructure investment to theoretically make said customers slightly less grumpy.
Oh, and there's the possibility for advertising. Not targeted - or at least that's not how TfL is framing it - but being able to show advertisers where they'd get the most bang for their buck.
"Being able to reliably demonstrate this should improve commercial revenue, which can then be reinvested back into the transport network," as the press release puts it.
While TfL has made clear that all this data won't be shared with anyone and is depersonalised, there's not really a way to opt out. Because the data is tracked via MAC address, the only way to stop the tracking is to turn off WiFi or enable airport mode.
But then you'd lose access to the fun game of trying to log in and see your WhatsApp messages between stops. Nobody wants that. µ
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