Mobile phone tracking data ‘could replace census questions’

London commutersImage copyright
PA

Thousands of people have had their movements tracked by the Office for National Statistics to see if they can find out where they live as well as work.

The ONS can be trying to build up a picture of people’s daily commute – something the item normally asks about inside the census.

Mobile phones create a record of every location visited by the user if the phone can be switched on.

Statisticians believe the data, which can be anonymised, could one day replace census questions in England as well as Wales.

yet the item admitted the item could need to carry out “extensive evaluation” of “privacy impacts” if the item went down of which route.

‘Children’s mobiles’

The experiment was carried out using data through subscribers to the Vodafone mobile phone network. the item was restricted to subscribers aged over 18 as well as did not include people who use pay-as-you-go phones.

the item tracked where phones were overnight, to work out where users lived, as well as where they travelled during the day, which was assumed to be their place of work.

the item focused on three London boroughs – Lambeth, Southwark as well as Croydon – as well as looked at how far people travelled to work during a four week period in March as well as April last year.

the item painted a slightly different picture to the 2011 census, with more people appearing not to leave their home borough on their daily commute.

Image copyright
Reuters

Image caption

The Office for National Statistics tracked phone users around London

Some of This particular might be down to students, who may have been “mistakenly inferred as commuters as their movement behaviour will be similar”, the report said.

“the item’s also likely of which some parents will take out subscriptions for their children’s mobiles,” said the report, so in future “children of secondary school age as well as in higher education might therefore also be included”.

Final census?

The mobile data underestimated some commuter flows, such as the number of people travelling into Lambeth every day.

The study may have failed to indentify commuters with “non-standard work patterns, such as night or shift workers; depot workers as well as those on zero-hours contracts” or those of which were ill on holiday, the report said.

The ONS can be today asking for feedback to decide whether the brand-new system will be rolled out more widely.

The government as well as local authorities use This particular kind of census household as well as working patterns data to plan housing developments as well as transport networks.

The census has been carried out every 10 years since 1801, with the exception of 1941, to provide a snapshot of the size of the country’s population as well as details about how people live as well as work.

yet the government wants the next census, in 2021, to be the final one to be carried out using the traditional paper-based questionnaire method.

the item has asked the Office for National Statistics to explore how the item can get the information the item needs through alternative sources.

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