back to article Highways Agency tracks Brits' every move by their mobes: THE TRUTH

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 …

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Amazing

A cheaper and better option being used for the benefit of the people. Is it april the 1st or something?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Amazing

Depends on which people are benefiting .. there's no evidence any of this is being used for the good of the motoring public ..

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N2

No surprise

at all.

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Compliance and Annoyance in One Easy Step

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.

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Re: Compliance and Annoyance in One Easy Step

"Besides. How can this possibly be cheaper than setting up the traditional pneumatic cross-lane traffic counters?"

We used to jump up and down on the older ones.

Most are now not pneumatic and do calculations to try and separate bike, cars, trucks.

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Re: Compliance and Annoyance in One Easy Step

They're still mostly pneumatic here in the US. I've never tried jumping on one as they're generally placed in high traffic areas :)

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Go

Re: Compliance and Annoyance in One Easy Step

" 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.

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Re: Compliance and Annoyance in One Easy Step

"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".

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Happy

Re: Compliance and Annoyance in One Easy Step

I've never jumped up and down on one (Thank my dad for spanking me at a gas station in the 70's after I jumped up and down on the tube) but I have driven in circles for most of an hour just to run over one countless times.

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Re: Compliance and Annoyance in One Easy Step

The traffic counters tell you a vehicle is in that particular location. It doesn't tell you that if you put another road in a different part of the country, that vehicle would find a quicker route and would need to be there.

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Re: Compliance and Annoyance in One Easy Step

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.

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Re: Compliance and Annoyance in One Easy Step

How is this any worse than the data Google Maps currently collects from our mobes to display traffic congestion info? You can opt out from participating but who bothers?

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Re: Compliance and Annoyance in One Easy Step

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.

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Re: Compliance and Annoyance in One Easy Step

"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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Re: Compliance and Annoyance in One Easy Step

Because it is easier to use data collected by a government to link you to someone linked to terrorism.

Did you miss the point in the article about the data being anonymized before being passed to the government?

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Re: Compliance and Annoyance in One Easy Step

"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.

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Re: Compliance and Annoyance in One Easy Step

"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

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Re: Compliance and Annoyance in One Easy Step

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)

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Nym

Re: Compliance and Annoyance in One Easy Step

" pay people to get the data off the equipment."

Americans can't count though, just ask us...

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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.

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Anonymous Coward

Pseudonymised is the word. They can't tell who you are but it is a unique reference that doesn't change.

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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...

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Anonymous Coward

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)

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> 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.

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Missed opportunity

mmmm they could have done something useful with the smart phone on the (road) network, Like map the pot holes and bloody fix em !

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I always have my phone switched off while driving, that avoids any temptation to answer it if it rings. I know that I am not so important that I have to be reachable at all times, unlike 99% of everybody under my age.

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Big Brother

...until someone matches the ANPR and CCTV data and notice a car in motion that is not emitting mobile phone signals. That should make "them" suspicious and attract their attention to YOU!

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I can defeat phone tracking

Just turn off your phone....easy eh.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I can defeat phone tracking

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?

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Re: I can defeat phone tracking

Is it? Can you actually turn off an iPhone? I thought the new tracking stuff they've included in case it gets nicked prevented that from being possible.

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Re: I can defeat phone tracking

> 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.

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Anonymous Coward

Typical waste of money

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

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Re: Typical waste of money

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.

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Re: Typical waste of money

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.

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Pint

Re: Typical waste of money

'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.

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Re: Typical waste of money

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.

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Re: Typical waste of money

Roundabouts take more land than traffic lights. Where there is no space for a roundabout, or for right-turning slip roads, traffic lights are the best solution.

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FAIL

Re: Typical waste of money

"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!

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Re: Typical waste of money

swinton interchange for northerners. Leeds is getting improvements all the time, just the average speed cameras to blight your morning rush.

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Re: Typical waste of money @Alex Rose

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.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Typical waste of money

How about these areas; Portsmouth to Dover no motorway between them.. how about between Southampton and Exeter again no motorway. Then Gatwick hanging off the end of the M23. I'd be thinking these are quite important areas, airports and ports etc

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Typical waste of money

I've travelled a lot on the A331 it isnt linked to the A3, to continue South, you have to go completely in the wrong direction down the A31 to pick up the A3.

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Meh

@Lee D - Re: Typical waste of money

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.

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Re: Typical waste of money @Alex Rose

@BristolBachelor

I have to agree with you, why the hell the signs onto the M25 don't always just include "Clockwise" or "Anti-Clockwise" I'll never understand, all this North, South, East, West rubbish for a road that's a f*cking circle is retarded.

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Roundabouts Vs traffic lights

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.

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Re: Typical waste of money

@ 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.

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Re: Typical waste of money

@Lee D

You're right about traffic lights, but roundabouts work well until about 98% full and then simply STOP.

Traffic lights at roundabouts are there to keep the roundabout flowing. If needed then the road is overcongested.

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How is anonymisation done?

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.

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