Cutpurse capers

5 months ago Comments Off on Cutpurse capers

Big Brother really is watching you

SMART-CARD public-transport ticketing systems let people hop between buses, subways, trams, surface rail and river boats—even when these are operated by different companies—without having to buy new tickets. This undoubted good, though, has ramifications. One is that anyone with access can, by following individual passengers (or, at least, their cards), study precisely where people are going.

Companies use this knowledge to optimise services—again, an undoubted good. But many other things, some disturbing to freedom lovers, might also be done with smart-card data. One, outlined in San Francisco this week at the Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining conference, seems completely unsinister on the face of it. This is to use such data to catch pickpockets.

The idea is the brainchild of Xiong Hui of Rutgers University, in New Jersey, and Du Bowen and Hou Zhenshan of Beihang University, in Beijing. Together, they studied the movements of passengers on Beijing’s buses, trains and subways. As might be expected, most moved swiftly from A to B—taking the least time or smallest number…Continue reading
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