Royal Parks covertly tracks visitors via mobile phone data
In 2015, the Royal Parks conducted a covert study of visitors to London's Hyde Park using anonymised mobile phone signals provided by the network operator EE to analyse footfall. During the study, which was conducted via government-funded Future Cities Catapult, the Royal Parks also had access to aggregated age and gender data, creating a detailed picture of how different people used the park over the period of about a year. The study also showed the percentage of EE subscribers who visited from various boroughs, towns, and cities.
The data was provided after a four-week delay. However, the Royal Parks and FCC expressed the hope that location data could inform policing at large events, tailor park amenities, and protect the park's ecology. With government funding at an all-time low but the number of visitors doubling to 77 million in the previous ten years, the deal with FCC is one of a number of initiatives to help the parks find ways to raise new revenues. As users shift to over-the-top services like Skype and WhatsApp, mobile network operators are also seeking to find new revenue sources.
Writer: Oscar Williams