December 7, 2015 8:46 pm
Updated: December 8, 2015 12:29 am

TTC allowing data collection of riders at subway stations

WATCH ABOVE: Rider’s personal data could potentially be accessed by the Toronto Transit Commission. The data is collected when passengers sign on to the TTC’s new Wi-Fi network. Peter Kim reports.


TORONTO — Free Wi-Fi may come at the cost of privacy for riders at TTC stations across Toronto. For the month of December, passengers who want to go online will have to do so using a Twitter account.

This grants Internet service provider BAI Canada access to riders’ tweets, personal information, and a list of their followers.

Privacy advocates say this isn’t a good direction for a publicly funded transit system.

A screenshot of the prompt for information from the TTC’s Wi-Fi service.

Peter Kim/Global News

“People tend to underestimate the value of privacy,” said Ann Cavoukian, Executive Director of Ryerson’s Privacy and Big Data Institute.

“I always tell both public sector and private sector companies, ‘You will be mistaken if you make that error,’ because increasingly, every survey shows this, the public is becoming much more distrustful of organizations that attempt to collect their identifiable data.”

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The TTC says they are not forcing riders to use their service, and the current sign-in protocols are only for the month of December.

“Let’s keep this in perspective,” said Susan Sperling, Manager of Corporate Communications. “This is free Wi-Fi service while you’re standing on a subway platform waiting two to three minutes for a train.”

But many riders may not be aware of what information they could be surrendering in exchange for convenience during that short period.

Cavoukian says rider Wi-Fi usage data – including time and location of access – could in theory be used to track riders whose identities are disclosed through their Twitter profiles.

“It’s a fallacy to say there’s no cost to the individual. There is,” she said.

“In this day and age in the post-Snowden world, people are very concerned about their privacy.”

The TTC is also generating revenue through this Wi-Fi agreement with BAI Canada: $25 million dollars over 20 years, according to Sperling.

BAI Canada says it does not store the data nor do they give it to third parties.

“The information is only used by the internal IT systems to register the device, and is purged once the TCONNECT Wi-Fi session has expired,” said Ken Ranger, the company’s CEO.

Device information (e.g. iOS or Android) is also obtained when riders sign-in through the popular social media platform.

“BAI Canada is able to analyze the general usage on the network, but cannot provide information on individual users,” said Ranger.

Twitter, which already stores personal data of users, is only interested in what new users it’s able to attract as a result of this partnership.

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