Tracking and privacy aren’t polar opposites
It’s a gut reaction for many people to oppose being tracked. Whether it’s adtech or facial recognition cameras, tracking is just bad, right? It may be worth rethinking that binary position.
Tracking can have positive benefits when it teaches us new things about behaviour, and technologists are increasingly finding ways to make the process respect individuals’ privacy.
TfL is using a unique identifier for each passenger, but it’s not tied to any personally identifiable information (such as your phone’s MAC address). Details of journeys won’t be shared with anyone, and will be deleted entirely after two years. This is a big step up in privacy from the way TfL tracked users during a trial in 2016, which used hashed MAC addresses. These could have feasibly been used to identify individuals.
The benefit of understanding every journey on the Tube is it allows TfL to remodel stations, service patterns and signage to ensure the network is operating optimally and serving the public as well as possible. It can also help place ads around stations in optimal locations based on footfall and dwell times — and even charge for ads more accurately based on their placement.
“Apple’s thinking… is that ads don’t need to share with anyone else that you bought something from an online store. Ads just need to know that someone — and not an identifiable person — clicked on an ad on a site and bought something on another.
"By taking the identifiable person out of the equation, Apple says its new technology can help preserve user privacy without reducing the effectiveness on ad campaigns.”
This approach is coming soon to Apple’s Safari browser and the company hopes it can become an industry-wide standard that means ads can be effective without abusing users.
Both these examples show that tracking and privacy aren’t polar opposites, and a middle ground can be found, at least when the people behind the tech in question want to find it.