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The Australian Bureau of Statistics Tracked People By Their Mobile Device Data.
The ABS claims population estimates have a “major data gap” and so they’ve been a busy bee figuring out a way to track crowd movement. Their solution? Mobile device user data. “…with its near-complete coverage of the population, mobile device data is now seen as a feasible way to estimate temporary populations,” states a 2017 conference extract for a talk by ABS Demographer Andrew Howe.

While the “Estimated Resident Population” (ERP) is Australia’s official population measure, the ABS felt the pre-existing data wasn’t ‘granular’ enough. What the ABS really wanted to know was where you’re moving, hour by hour, through the CBD, educational hubs, tourist areas. Howe’s ABS pilot study of mobile device user data creates population estimates with the help of a trial engagement with an unnamed telco company. The data includes age and sex breakdowns. The study ran between the 18th April to 1st May 2016. [....]

Electronic Frontiers Australia board member Justin Warren also pointed out that while there are beneficial uses for this kind of information, “…the ABS should be treading much more carefully than it is. The ABS damaged its reputation with its bungled management of the 2016 Census, and with its failure to properly consult with civil society about its decision to retain names and addresses. Now we discover that the ABS is running secret tracking experiments on the population?”

“Even if the ABS’ motives are benign, this behaviour — making ethically dubious decisions without consulting the public it is experimenting on — continues to damage the once stellar reputation of the ABS.”

“This kind of population tracking has a dark history. During World War II, the US Census Bureau used this kind of tracking information to round up Japanese-Americans for internment. Census data was used extensively by Nazi Germany to target specific groups of people. The ABS should be acutely aware of these historical abuses, and the current tensions within society that mirror those earlier, dark days all too closely.”
abs  australia  tracking  location-data  privacy  data-privacy  mobile 
april 2018 by jm

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