Blog by Georgina Bourke: “The Mayor of London listed cycling and walking as key population health indicators in the London Health Inequalities Strategy. The pandemic has only amplified the need for people to use cycling as a safer and healthier mode of transport. Yet as the majority of cyclists are white, Black communities are less likely to get the health benefits that cycling provides. Groups like Transport for London (TfL) should monitor how different communities cycle and who is excluded. Organisations like the London Office of Technology and Innovation (LOTI) could help boroughs procure privacy preserving technology to help their efforts.
But at the moment, it’s difficult for public organisations to access mobility data held by private companies. One reason is because mobility data is sensitive. Even if you remove identifiers like name and address, there’s still a risk you can reidentify someone by linking different data sets together. This means you could track how an individual moved around a city. I wrote more about the privacy risks with mobility data in a previous blog post. The industry’s awareness of privacy issues in using and sharing mobility data is rising. In the case of Los Angeles Department of Transport’s Mobility Data Specification (LADOT), Uber is concerned about sharing anonymised data because of the privacy risk. Both organisations are now involved in a legal battle to see which has the rights to the data. This might have been avoided if Uber had applied privacy preserving techniques….
Privacy preserving techniques can help mobility providers share important insights with authorities without compromising peoples’ privacy.
Instead of requiring access to all customer trip data, authorities could ask specific questions like, where are the least popular places to cycle? If mobility providers apply techniques like randomised response, an individual’s identity is obscured by the noise added to the data. This means it’s highly unlikely that someone could be reidentified later on. And because this technique requires authorities to ask very specific questions – for randomised response to work, the answer has to be binary, ie Yes or No – authorities will also be practicing data minimisation by default.
It’s easy to imagine transport authorities like TfL combining privacy preserved mobility data from multiple mobility providers to compare insights and measure service provision. They could cross reference the privacy preserved bike trip data with demographic data in the local area to learn how different communities cycle. The first step to addressing inequality is being able to measure it….(More)”.