Tube users to be tracked through Wi-Fi

Users of London’s underground system will have their data and movements tracked through the Wi-Fi on their phones, starting this week.

The decision to use data in this way is hoped to be a huge move forward in the way that the 156-year-old underground transport structure works. Instead of building a new transport system to accommodate for the massive amounts of people that use the tube, the data is hoped to be used to alter the way that commuters think and behave.

The collection of data works through beacons being used to connect with individual Wi-Fi numbers, known as the Media Access Control (MAC) address. The location of each device can then be followed and the intelligence put together.

Past data collection

Previously, data was collected from 5.6 million people during a four-week period in 2016, and had been taken from where people started and ended their journeys only. But now, information will be gathered from the Wi-Fi to show the journeys in-between, too.

The only type of data available previously was from the tapping in and out of Oyster cards.

Positive use of information

It’s hoped this information will be able to show people which routes will be quicker and emptier for people to go on, overall improving customer satisfaction. The personalised data will even have the ability to tell a person whether or not they should wait for the next train.

With this information, TFL will be able to warn customers of the knock-on effects from closures of certain lines and stations.

Privacy worry

The strategy does not come without worries over privacy, however. To start with, a mobile device doesn’t even have to be connected to the Virgin Wi-Fi available on the underground for info to be gathered. A phone simply has to have its Wi-Fi switched on through a device.

There are also worries over the genuine anonymity of the collection of this type of data. Eerke Boiten, a professor of cybersecurity at De Montfort University says: “This is one more example of where a ‘free’ service comes at a surveillance cost.”

In TFL’s defense, they say that posters pointing out the use of Wi-Fi are spread across the underground. A spokesperson for the company told The Telegraph, that the data will be encrypted and only a small group of employees will have access to it.

TFL says the new figures will be stored for 2 years once accessed.

How to protect yourself

In speaking to Software Testing News, Hervé Lambert, Global Consumer Operations Manager at Panda Security was asked what the biggest threat to data being collected by Wi-Fi was. He spoke of how people take protections when it comes to every other type of data protection and that keeping guard against Wi-Fi hackers shouldn’t be any different.

He says: “There are easy tips everyone can action such as keeping applications and operating systems updated, sheild accounts and services, look for official Wi-Fi networks with safeguards, and consider using public Wi-Fi networks as a last option with added protection.“

Lambert also suggests that VPN is the best protection to use for Wi-Fi security.


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