Skip to main content

British Columbia Metro Vancouver project monitors private cellphones to track traffic jams

Traffic moves along West Georgia Street in downtown Vancouver June 4, 2008.

Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail

Someone else's cellphone could be helping you avoid a traffic jam.

B.C.'s Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, Transport Canada and TransLink, which runs the Vancouver region's transit system, unveiled an online map on Wednesday that displays real-time, colour-coded traffic information using data collected from cellphone signals.

The information on the map is created by collecting anonymous GPS data from cellphone users who are driving on the region's highways and major roads to determine the general speed of movement along each route.

Story continues below advertisement

Roads and highways on the map, which is updated constantly, are coloured red for very slow movement, yellow to signal congestion and green if travel is trouble-free. TransLink and DriveBC, the provincial government's traffic service, have both posted the map on their websites and are encouraging travellers to use the map for pre-trip planning.

Similar technology is used by Google Maps, which tracks GPS-enabled cellphones as part of its "Live Traffic" feature. Google's system allows it to measure the speed of phones as they travel around the city, combining data from thousands of phones across the network to create a representation of traffic conditions. Apple uses similar technology for its mapping service.

Privacy advocates raised concerns Wednesday about the cellphone-based technology used in the new map, as well as by companies such as Google and Apple, saying the public needs more assurances that personal information isn't being collected.

TransLink insisted that any personal data from cellphones is removed before the information is pushed to the map.

But the B.C. Civil Liberties Association said TransLink's assurance is vague and doesn't adequately address privacy concerns.

"It's simply insufficient to say ... that any personal date from cellphones is removed before it is used in the map system," the association's policy director, Micheal Vonn, said in an interview.

"That's still collection of personal data."

Story continues below advertisement

Vonn said more information needs to be released about the mapping technology, including whether privacy impact assessments have been conducted at both the provincial and federal levels.

"I don't know what kind of technology is being used here," she said, but this "is the kind of use of new technologies that clearly requires the guidance of the privacy commissioners."

The provincial government referred questions to TransLink. Neither TransLink nor Transport Canada responded to requests for comment.

Data from the project will be saved and used to help plan further highway upgrades in the area covering Highway 1 from Whistler to Chilliwack, Highway 99 from the Peace Arch border crossing to Whistler, and all other numbered highways and major roadways in Metro Vancouver.

Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter