London Underground Wifi Tracking: Here’s Everything We Learned From TfL’s Official Report
Earlier this year, Gizmodo UK scored ourselves a scoop, as we exclusively revealed some of the findings from last year’s wifi tracking trial, in which Transport for London analysed wifi data picked up from our phones as we travel on the London Underground – and was able to track our movements across the tube network.
Many months on and TfL has decided to share more details on what it learned during the trial in an official capacity – and today marks the publication of a report that has been led by TfL’s Chief Data Officer, Lauren Sager Weinstein.
Why analyse wifi data in this way? “There are a lot of questions we’ve been mulling over for some time about how we can run a transport network as efficiently as we can, how can plan for the future and how can we give customers more information about travel”, she says.
She told me that the idea to analyse wifi data to gain customer insights has its origins in the original Oyster card system. Starting in 2005, she first started to scrutinise the Oyster data using data science – and this was at a time when TfL was solely reliant on paper surveys and stopping passengers at stations and asking them about their journeys.
“As the world of data has exploded and as computer power has [increased] we’ve built up a practice of looking at customer patterns and movements through the ticketing data, and [we] said there’s a gap here, right?”
The gap she noticed was that Oyster data didn’t paint a complete picture. “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?”