Hyde Park visitors “covertly tracked” via mobile phone data

Hyde Park

 The Guardian reports that:

Visitors to Hyde Park, one of London’s most famous tourist spots, were covertly tracked via their mobile phone signals in a trial undertaken by the Royal Parks to analyse footfall amid drastic funding cuts. Officials were able to retrospectively locate park-goers for 12 months using anonymised mobile phone data provided by the network operator EE via a third party.

Oddly, the article doesn’t take quite the negative approach suggested by the headline (I inserted the quote marks around “covertly tracked” – they’re not there in the original headline), and the stuff about privacy appears to be inserted to make this less about an interesting way of understanding behaviour and more about an invasion of privacy.

But as the story says, the data was anonymised. It’s not exactly snooping – this type of data has been used in different forms for decades by advertisers, planners, supermarket merchandisers…

If the aim is to ensure that the world’s most frequently visited public park attracts people from all backgrounds, it sounds like an interesting use of anonymised data we could apply in many other scenarios, and a useful counter to the far less anonymous collection of data that goes on not just by government but by some of our most popular companies. Google and Facebook, I’m looking at you.

Right to be forgotten: Swiss cheese internet, or database of ruin?

Imagine, 25 years ago, someone telling you: we really need to redress this massive social ignorance that, when you meet someone for the first time, you don’t know everything about them. What we ought to do is assemble a giant database. On everyone. Brilliant idea. But there are a couple of provisos, they add. This database will be sourced from whatever scraps of information are lying around about you – whether carefully crafted, or pulled from the streets. The product of your life’s work; or just some odd thing you once said or did, long ago, somewhere that the database decides to rank highly and eternally. The database will contain the most intimate, embarrassing, destructive things. But they will be mere flecks in a torrent of utility. And because of that: you have no rights or say over the database. Your entry – and that of everyone else who can’t afford a reputation manager – is subject to the whims of the untouchable logic of the machine, scraping the sticky, pocked underbelly of the web. Some would call that idea visionary. Others would call it nuts. But it’s what we’ve got. It’s called a search engine. Or, for most of us, in the monoculture of our digital universe: Google.

Read the full story here