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TfL denies it wants to to sell passenger data collected via WiFi tracking scheme

TRANSPORT FOR LONDON (TfL) has denied reports that it is planning to sell information gathered by tracking the WiFi signals from Tube passenger’s mobile phones.

Sky News had reported that, despite promising otherwise, TfL is planning to sell this information to third parties and hopes to raise £322m by doing so.

And the Open Rights Group (ORG) warned about TfL’s seemingly-innocent plans to uses people mobile phones to track crowd movement around 54 London Underground stations in a pilot study last year.

However, a spokesperson for TfL told INQ on Thursday:”We have no intention of selling any personal data. The data would simply allow us to get a better understanding of where people travel through stations so that any advertising / retail units are placed where there are higher footfall flows.

“We are already in discussions with key stakeholders, including the Information Commissioner’s Office, privacy campaigners and consumer groups about how this data collection could be undertaken on a permanent basis, possibly across the full Tube network.”

Nevertheless, the fact that the data collected by TfL is pseudonymised rather than anonymised has raised some concerns from privacy campaigners.

Co-founder of PersonalData.IO Paul-Olivier Dehaye told Sky News: “TfL don’t seem to understand what ‘anonymised’ means in data protection terms. While the pilot was running, the data was merely pseudonymisation, while retaining the technical capacity of easily combining this data with external datasets.”

There is also the issue of the apparent dual use of the data, with important questions about the dividing line between research and commercial activities when it comes to using personal data. During the pilot the only way that passengers could avoid being followed through the Tube network by TfL’s beacons was to switch the WiFi off on their phone.

Incoming data protection legislation, including the EU GDPR, is likely to require that citizens have the right to opt out of such schemes. In addition, conflating consent to one activity, such as studying the movement of people for planning purposes, with another, for example, using personal data for commercial purposes, will be made more difficult. µ

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