A cheaper and better option being used for the benefit of the people. Is it april the 1st or something?
The Highways Agency, tasked with looking after England's motorways, buys data on Brits' whereabouts from mobile phone networks. The information, harvested by tracking the location of everyone's handsets and anonymising it into blocks of statistics, is used to establish which roads are used the most and when - much to the …
I don't like the idea of mass collected data being used by any government, it is bound to escalate and be used in the future far outside of its initial purpose. Besides. How can this possibly be cheaper than setting up the traditional pneumatic cross-lane traffic counters?
It would be pretty funny if everyone started keeping their phones in a shielded enclosure while in the car. It would eliminate the talking/texting while driving issue and serve as a great annoyance to the traffic people. Maybe open it about midway between two places with no entrances or exits and close it again before you got to one.
" How can this possibly be cheaper than setting up the traditional pneumatic cross-lane traffic counters?"
Just a guess, but maybe it's because they have to get the equipment to do the counting, pay people to install the equipment, pay people to get the data off the equipment.
It doesn't surprise me at all that it's cheaper to get the data from the phone network. Seems like a good use of the data to me.
"I don't like the idea of mass collected data being used by any government, it is bound to escalate and be used in the future far outside of its initial purpose. "
I'm sorry Don Jefe, you're behind the times. Your and my government have already escalated data collection to cover as much as possible as has been well documented of late. Here in the UK the unaccountable quango known as ACPO (association of chief police officers) already have a system deployed to read, monitor and record number plates for the purposes of tracking and recording individual movements on the UK's trunk roads, so the UK's Stasi already have that.
However, the UK Highways Agency (generally speaking one of our better government operations) merely maintain, operate and upgrade our major roads, so they actually have a reasonable excuse for tracking vehicle movements, but ACPO aren't sharing the information they've hoovered up (although the ACPO ANPR cameras are often mounted on Highways Agency property). Moreover, simple induction or pressure traffic counters don't tell you important things like the routes taken by vehicles, which is important when looking to (say) improve junction design.
As others have said, this is benign use of data by an organisation actually trying to provide me with a service, rather than an unaccountable bunch hoping to track my movements "just in case I might commit a crime".
I don't like the idea of mass collected data being used by any government
Hate to break it to you Don, but collecting massive data and then using it is the purpose of a government. In politics, everything from fiscal policy to defence and everything in between is decided by looking at the numbers and determining a course of action that keeps you headed towards $DESTINATION. The difference between political parties is where $DESTINATION is.
For example, its necessary to know how many people are driving on a given road and where they are flowing to so that you can build enough roads to keep people moving efficiently, which is one of the purposes of the Highways Agency.
Because it is easier to use data collected by a government to link you to someone linked to terrorism. Maybe you unknowingly carpool or ride the same bus as a terrorism suspect. Maybe you've never spoken a word to that person in your life but you guys sure do spend a lot of time together. Is it risking a security cleared job in the future?
Not saying that will be the case, but what started out as tools for money laundering now have governments looking at your credit card purchases and funds transfers. Extending benign tools to suit a not so benign purpose has plenty of form lately.
"Did you miss the point in the article about the data being anonymized before being passed to the government?"
I think it is more a case that he missed the bit where GCHQ can already, quite legally, sink their teeth into all the telecoms data they can eat, so there's really no need to trouble the Highways Agency.
"I think it is more a case that he missed the bit where GCHQ can already, quite legally, sink their teeth into all the telecoms data they can eat, so there's really no need to trouble the Highways Agency."
Or indeed Vodafone et al for the raw ID rich data
Given sufficient anonymised data sources it's surprisingly easy to link an anonymised individual to a real person.
This is particularly so in medical studies and should be a big worry for anyone considering medical insurance as those companies have a vested interest in doing this to work out premiums (and a track record of doing it)
"How can this possibly be cheaper than setting up the traditional pneumatic cross-lane traffic counters?"
Tracking mobiles enables you to get information about the whole journey that was taken. Getting the same info using pneumatic cross-lane traffic counters would mean that every road would need to have them - surelt that's got to be more expensive?
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At least we have some idea who the Highways Agency is. Ever hear of a company called ESRI?
They are an American supplier of mapping software and data with close ties to the US government. At a conference earlier this year they gave a presentation showing how they buy this same data from the mobile networks and then use it to help TfL work out how many people are using public transport, what kinds of transport they are using, their average wait times and even to spot traffic jams and accidents. They showed us a time map that showed the previous couple of hours in the area round the convention centre.
Everyone else in the room applauded while I sat there looking shocked.
They said all the usual “data is anonymous” crap but we all know if you can find a dot making the same trip in the morning 5 days a week and back in the evening then you know where that person lives and works. From there it’s simple to work out who they are.
Same with voting slips, the code on the slip matches the code on the stub, your voter ID is written on the stub.
Both are kept, but in different locations, so theoretically it's possible to find out who you voted for, but it would be a complete ball-ache, so unless it's really really important nobody bothers...
If you've ever worked somewhere where you had to fill out one of the huge pink security clearance forms, you'd find out in your interview that they already know how you voted in each election (and if you actually voted or not). Also if you went to a rally for the communist party when you were 18 (although it seems an answer of "Well we'd just turned 18, so got drunk and went along for a laugh" is rewarded with "Jolly good sport" if I remember well)
> Pseudonymised is the word. They can't tell who you are but it is a unique reference that doesn't change.
Erm, a quick look at the electoral rolls will fix that.
If you know where someone lives, it is simplicity itself to find out who you are.
If you can isolate the travel habits of a single participant, you can identify who they are, no problem.
Turn it off when? All the time? Don't bother owning one then.
There is already mission creep here isn't there? They are buying phone tracking data/statistics. Not data just for people who are driving, how could you separate that out? They are not even limiting the data to just car owners, I don't see how they could.
And if you live by a major trunk road, how can they tell if that static dot is you stuck in traffic or you in your living room?
> Not data just for people who are driving, how could you separate that out?
It's basic statistics, FFS.
Which places are frequented the most when stationary for a set period of time.
You could automate that process and get a large number of hits in a batch of data without any kind of intervention by a meat bag.
Doesnt take a genius to already know the roads dont have enough capacity for the job, instead of wasting money collecting data just buy a map and use your eyes.
Here are a few to get started;
An outer "M25" loop if you are south you have to go around the M25 to go north.
No fly over to join the M25 to the A3 so queue up at a roundabout for no reason.
The A3 grinds to a halt at Guildford.
No motorway/dual-carriageway linking the A3 to the M3 to the M4.
How about the A3 to A24
There is no motorway to the far south east of the country
A303 should be a dual carriageway
Meanwhile A and B roads which were built 30+yrs ago for localised traffic are clogged to hell.. but hey lets spend billions on a useless railway
Eliminate traffic lights as much as possible.
Stopping one set of traffic to allow another to pass is the most ridiculous of traffic management schemes. Use roundabouts - multiple people can go in multiple directions simultaneously, the larger queue gets an implicit priority which lets it clear faster. Combine with judicious use of hatched areas on larger roundabouts to prevent gridlock. The traffic then never *actually* stops, it just moves slowly at worst. And where there's a huge queue of people wanting to get out, they can and can clear that queue quicker at the temporary expense of other routes (but don't match large routes and small routes on the same damn roundabout, anyway).
Honestly, I set my sat-nav and then adjust the course to the route with the least number of traffic lights (anyone know a sat-nav that can automatically add half-of-the-full-traffic-light-cycle-time as an average delay at it?). It's almost always the same or faster in terms of getting to my final destination even if the actual route is longer (but that just means that my average speed is higher for the same journey, which is usually more fuel-efficient and much less frustrating).
Traffic lights STOP half (or sometimes 3/4's) of the traffic to let another continue unimpeded, then BLOCK those that it was letting move to allow others to move. It's slow, inefficient, builds queues, annoying to drive (stop, start, stop, start, queue, queue, queue, quick-go!), and leaves cars sitting still with their engines running.
Don't even get me started on traffic-lights-on-a-roundabout. All that means is that you cocked up your implementation of a roundabout and/or don't want to break up the traffic properly.
My daily journey to work crossing West-East London takes over an hour. I can do it in the same time, with less traffic, virtually non-stop, by coming out of town, onto roads with minimal traffic management, going 30 miles more at motorway speeds and have done reliably for several years. The times that there are actually traffic/accidents/diversions, it's only slightly slower than the "default" traffic-light-laden route is on average anyway. The slowest part of my journey is actually getting to the part that lets me drive, use roundabouts and join motorways seamlessly, and is a mere 8% of my overall journey. And most of that time is spent at damn traffic lights.
Wrote :- "Eliminate traffic lights as much as possible."
I'm with you much of the way, but it is not physically possible to replace most traffic lights with roundabouts
I've a better idea - get some people with more than one brain cell to program them.
For a start, many could be turned off during quiet times as a few are now; saves electricity too. I often negotiate the huge traffic-lighted roundabout at the Avonmouth exit of the M5 (J18) in the late evening and it can take 5 minutes, even though I am the only vehicle in sight - I reckon it has over FIFTY signal heads around it, I must count one day. As I approach, the entry lights on my road always turn red and I can count to forty before they go green again. Then, as I progress round, each gantry, which had been showing a row of 6 greens to no-body, turns red in my face - I am convinced it is deliberate "traffic calming".
At crossroads, there is increasing use of showing green to only one road at a time, rather than to the opposite pairs. Again, such lights could revert to the paired mode off-peak.
The newer lights (recognised by being so bright that they dazzle) spend far more time showing red in all directions than the older ones.
Then there are the pedestrian crossings. Half hour ago I had to break sharply because someone had pushed the button to cross one, yet there were no other cars around on a quiet straight road. Couldn't magnetic loops have detected that and waited a split second to let the one car pass, saving energy and time, and it being safer for anyone NOT to cross in front of an idling car. Then, the pedestrian having crossed, the lights remained at red for so long that he had walked about 50 yards away before I could move again.
a couple of fundamental flaws with the roundabout Idea, Though I applaud the Thinking.
Brits cant use roundabouts well certainly not in Basingstoke or Newbury.
Traffic planners don't know how to set them out nowadays either.
Traffic lights are a free for all when the lights turn amber now so floor it Batman seems to be order of the day.
And Cyclists ignore the rules on both.
Yes, you know which roads don't have enough capacity for the job, but do you know why they don't have enough capacity for the job?
For example, is the M25 at Heathrow so busy because lots of people want to go to Heathrow? If it is, then you improve public transport links to the airport, you add another lane to the 6 lanes each way it already has and so on.
Or is it so busy because people want to get from eg M4 or M40 to M3 or A3, and that is the only realistic way to do it at the moment. Then you complete the M31 (currenty A3290/A329(M)/A329) so that they have a shorter route. Or do they want to get from North to South, and not pay the toll at Dartford? Then there might be a different solution.
'No motorway in the far south East'? WTF are you smoking? Ever heard on the M20...
Shirley you mean the FAR SOUTH WEST!
my guess is that you live in or around Guildford. Then you should know that there is are dual carriageway links between the A3 & M3 and the M3 and M4
A3---A31---A331 gets you to Jcn 4 of the M3
M3/Jcn3--A322--A239M--M4. Only one little bit is not dual on that link.
You are right about the A303 though.
all this talk of the A31 makes me thirsty. some HBB is called for I think.
You just demonstrated why they need this information, most people think they "know" what needs to be done, but in reality you know what affects your little bubble, which seems to be Kent. The problems you describe aren't unique to Kent, but you need consistent information on a national scale in order to determine where to correctly spend the cash.
"No motorway/dual-carriageway linking the A3 to the M3 to the M4."
Somebody else has already pointed out the A331 but you don't actually make any indication of WHERE you don't think there's a link between the A3, M3 and M4. So I feel absolutely justified in shouting in a VERY LOUD VOICE - M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25! M25!
I don't know if they have changed it recently, but last time I used the A3 to get to the M25 coming from the west, the signs seemed to suggest that the M25 only goes to Heathrow and Gatwick. There was nothing suggesting that the M25 goes anywhere else, nor anything saying North/South or Clockwise/Counterclockwise. If you didn't know where you were going relative to the airports, you were fucked.
@ AC 25/9 11:57
All the stuff you're ranting about was originally on the design plans and were trashed in the 1970s due to environmental and political objections. The M25 itself is an amalgamation of ring3 and 4 (which is why it goes to a greater radius road around watford and why there is a section of motorway-class road just north of the M25 between the M11 and the A1
I suggest you acquaint yourself with the history of the London Ringway plan.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London_Ringways is a good starting point.
The important point here is that this is more or less intrusive depending on how well the anonymisation is done. For example, if the Dept only receives the analysed trafic numbers (73 cars entered the motorway at J3 and exited at J8 between 8 and 9 AM) that would be very unintrusive. On the other hand, they almost certainly receive much more itemised data. Then we have to ask: how often is the "pseudonymous id" (used to correlate different position reports to identify the various points on someone's journey) changed? Every hour? Every day? Never?
The principle is that every time personal data is used to create "anonymous" data sets, the details of how the anonymisation is done must be published so that people affected can check.
Ideally, experts in anonymisation should be involved to create the algorithm, tailored to the particular need and carefully designed to leak the minimum of information. This is a difficult task, that requires considerable experience in privacy, that is almost certainly just being left to programmers today.
Bottom line: anyone who passes on personal data should be required to describe the anonymisation in detail. And public bodies (at least) should be required to do an expert privacy analysis of data they either acquire or release.
well in the case of Beijing, in order to crowd-source the road-traffic situation in near realtime they entered a random selection of phones into their traffic management system. This random selection of phones was obviously the long list of national annoying people, people who remember T!@nenmen Square, who protested about corruption, belonged to a minority etc
I have a page in chinese about it on my work PC so can't give the link at present.
Basically that's already a 'worst-case' anonymisation example; hopefully UK might be more prone to choosing the "give half a de-anonymisation key each to 2 ministries/Groups who don't get on" best practise? e.g. NUM & Coal Board, ASLEF & BR, Highways Agency & Ramblers Association
The data they collect isn't as accurate as the media would have you believe.
A "large mobile network" has a system in place that can give this data correctly to around 3 meters if it's employed. Indeed, this system has been used in the past to find missing people and criminals, however, it's not designed to give big data and the best the agency can hope for is connection to a single cell.
I can't really see how phone data is any more anonymous than ANPR data (as El Reg asserts). You can anonymise either set of data by (for example) replacing the car registration number or the phone number with a simple counter - such that the mapping isn't known to whoever buys the data.
Where the problem lies with both systems is that we only have someone's word that this is being done properly. And we all know how "misteaks" can happen.
If every journey had a unique ID with nothing to link it then there would be little to worry about.
- still possible to identify where people living at addresses in/near the covered areas work, but that route is part of the point.
The problem is that we don't know.
We didn't know they were doing this, and we don't know what the anonymisation method is.
If the method is "each phone has a random GUID" then it's not actually anonymous at all, because it becomes trivial to track an individual all over and then link everything together if they go somewhere "interesting".
So how is it done?
Without knowing the method, it's impossible to know whether the data is actually anonymous, or just "We changed everybody's name but you can still see their faces"
The same *anonymised* data has been sold for many years by several mobile telcos.
It is processed and distributed over radio data channels (e.g. Classic FM) into cars so that satnavs know about congestion. The car manufacturers license the data so that your satnav is more use than just an electronic map.
The same data is used to inform Sally Traffic on BBC radio and services such as keepmoving.co.uk (not a plug, I don't use it or work there).
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