WiFi tracking information can be very useful, and not just for retailers who want to measure and understand the performance of their store better. Information can be used for improving urban planning, public safety and real estate business. WiFI tracking is not a bad thing, as long as the rights of users are ensured and treated fairly.

Italian IT-company and a Trusted Cloud partner U-Hopper has combined data from a distributed WiFi radar infrastructure with data from social networks. The objective is to get the full picture of how citizens experience city life, where they go and when and what the social media topics are. Trusted Cloud has enabled U-Hopper to solve privacy issues.

”The data that can be extracted from WiFi tracking can actually be useful in a number of application scenarios, in particular if sufficient radar devices are deployed around an urban area. In this case, the information that can be extracted can be representative of how citizens live in the city, and how they use city facilities and infrastructures,” says VP executive Daniele Miorandi from U-Hopper.

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U-Hopper exploits the potential of big data platforms, data mining and Internet-of-Things technologies to provide powerful analytics for decision-makers.

”For such usage you do not really need details about every single WiFi address and thus every single person’s mobility and behaviour. What really matters is the aggregated behaviour of the users. In other words, you could easily just work with aggregated data.”

While WiFi radar data and information extracted from social media activities may represent a huge asset for those interested in monitoring and understanding what happens within a city, their usage requires attention in order to ensure respect of privacy-related regulations and directives. According to U-Hopper’s software engineer Carlo Caprini, the privacy issues have been solved with the help of the Trusted Cloud solutions and ecosystem.

”In particular, users shall be provided with guarantees on how their data is being collected, processed and used, with the choice of opting in/out at any moment in time and with the right to be forgotten. The Trusted Cloud platform provides such capabilities, offering guarantees to the users in terms of the complete lifecycle of their personal information.”

“The information that can be extracted can be representative of howcitizens live in the city, and how they use city facilities and infrastructures.”

The MyDataStore platform, developed by TIM, provides means for the users to control which of their personal data is collected and by which application it can be used. MyDataStore acts as a single control room for all personal information.

”By giving the user full control over their personal data, the Trusted Cloud ecosystem has the potential to unlock the full strength of WiFi and social media data for those planning policies and actions on a city-wide scale.”

Blended life: combining WiFi tracking with social media stream analysis

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While physical presence is certainly a relevant indicator for a number of applications, one can get the coherent information about the urban experience by adding online behaviour to the analysis.

”This blurring of the boundary between physical and virtual experiences is what we call ‘blended life’. In a world where the boundary between atoms and bits tends to become tenuous, it is necessary to combine data about the physical world with data from the online counterpart in order to get the full picture, ” says Daniele Miorandi.

For this purpose, U-Hopper has carried out a small-scale pilot in the Italian city of Trento. The pilot involved a number of retail stores located in the city centre. U-Hopper and the retail stores jointly analysed the customers’ physical and social media activities.

”By analysing in a collective way how people live in the city’s physical spaces, as well as how they speak about it in online conversations, we were able to effectively extract the ‘pulse of the city’. While we still need some more time to be able to observe the impact of some policy decisions taken by the local municipality, we have already discovered a number of interesting and surprising insights.”

It turned out that approximately 40% of the people in Trento carry a smartphone with the WiFi turned on. The data contains a lot of value. According to Miorandi, this information can be used for urban planning, public safety and by the real estate business.

”We believe that this substantiates the usage of WiFi data for informed decision-making and impact assessment on the urban level.”

Urban planning, real estate and tourism

Daniele Miorandi and Carlo Caprini are convinced that WiFi presence data can prove useful for a number of applications in the smart cities area. They are not only business-oriented but they could also have an impact on improving the wealth and quality of life in the city.

In urban planning, one of the key data for informed policy-making and impact assessment of urban interventions relates to the physical presence of citizens.

”Think for example of a neighbourhood renewal project that wants to foster the development of some city areas: how are people reacting? Are they going more and more often to such a neighbourhood? From where? Do they spend more time there?”

The gathered data can also reveal which locations in the city people tend to avoid and when.

”Do people feel safe in public places, for example a park? Do people frequent it at night? During weekends? A sudden decline in the number of people using a park can be an early warning sign that something is going wrong and people do not feel safe there any longer.”

According to Miorandi, by mining WiFi data at scale it also becomes possible to estimate how people move within the urban space.

”This is what folks working in transportation call the ‘origin-destination matrices’. This is key information for optimising public transportation, reducing air pollution and improving the citizens’ quality of life.”

Other potential application areas are real estate and tourism. When it comes to deciding where to open a new retail store or office space, the choice of the target area is a critical one. WiFi radar can provide insight into flows of people in the city, helping to understand the locations with the highest potential impact and value. WiFi data can be used to understand which facilities and areas are most visited by tourists during their stay in the city, as well as to understand their loyalty and the flow of presence during various seasons. This can be used as information for marketing actions and to evaluate their impact on the presence of tourists in the area.

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U-Hopper has carried out a small-scale pilot in the Italian city of Trento, supported by EIT Digital and in cooperation with TIM. Together with the retail stores, U-Hopper analysed the customers’ physical presence and social media activities. U-Hopper used its own Tapoi’s profiling engine for the collection and analysis of social media activities. In this particular case, U-Hopper focused on Twitter data and identified a number of relevant hashtags, accounts and words. The knowledge derived from the data collected and analysed is made available to the relevant stakeholders, such as urban planners, destination marketing organisations, municipality officers, and real estate agencies through a web dashboard.




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