Analyzing information about how people use public services can help improve efficiency and maximize resources for a better experience. Transportation operators often collect data about passenger activity for this reason.

By collecting Wi-Fi meta data from your mobile device when you’re using the free internet access in Toronto subway stations, the TTC can better understand how people use the transit system. This information is collected without identifying any personal information or monitoring other activity on your mobile device. Your privacy is always protected.

This data collection is possible because BAI Communications provides free Wi-Fi access in Toronto subway stations, including platforms and mezzanines. Learn more about Wi-Fi on the TTC.

How it works

To understand patterns of movement through the subway system, we collect the location of your mobile device when you are using the TCONNECT Wi-Fi network. We identify your device by an anonymized version of its Media Access Control (MAC) address, which means that we do not collect any personal identifiable information about you.

If you do not consent to this information being collected, you can opt out at any time. You have three ways to opt out while at a station:

  • Turn off the Wi-Fi on your device
  • Turn off your device
  • Put your device in airplane mode

Additionally, if you have any questions or concerns you can email privacy@baicanada.com.

What is Wi-Fi meta data?

When your mobile device searches for a Wi-Fi network, it sends out a request that includes its Media Access Control (MAC) address. This is an identifying number specific to your device and it is also referred to as ‘Wi-Fi meta data’.

How is Wi-Fi meta data collected?

When Wi-Fi is enabled on your mobile device, it will connect automatically to known networks. It also lists unknown networks in your device settings so you can choose which one you would like to join.

When you are inside a TTC station with free Wi-Fi access and your Wi-Fi is turned on, your device sends out a request to connect to the network. This request is received by the network even if you do not connect.

How do you know your private information is protected?

Our Wi-Fi meta data collection process is designed to collect information about patterns and not people. Its purpose is to understand how the general population uses the TTC network and not about how you personally use it.

When we collect your meta data, your privacy is protected in accordance with the strictest privacy standards. We use a one-way anonymization process that assigns a unique number to your device that does not reveal your device’s identity.

How do we process the meta data?

Most devices generate random MAC addresses, a standard security procedure, to prevent unknown routers from identifying them. When you sign up to use the free Wi-Fi in Toronto subway stations you allow our network to receive your real MAC address, at which point your device becomes ‘authenticated’. If you do not sign up to use the Wi-Fi network, your device is considered ‘un-authenticated’ and we do not collect your meta data.

When your MAC address enters our data control system, we immediately generate a new random number through a process called ‘hashing’. This process is then repeated – a process called ‘salting’ – to ensure that we do not hold your original MAC address that could identify your individual device.

The meta data we collect from authenticated devices also includes the date and time it connected to the network and the location of the router the device connected to. With this information we can determine the route, the travel time between stations, and the wait for individual trains during busy times – all useful information for improving transit service.

In order to maximize the benefit of this data collection we must study it over time, which means preserving our hashing key to maintain continuity. For this reason, it is possible to match a MAC address with its pseudonym – but only when provided with the MAC address in question.

This meta data is kept in accordance with our data retention policies. It is only kept for service improvement purposes and never for longer than one year.

Why collect this information?

Collecting and analyzing Wi-Fi meta data provides a better understanding of travel patterns, including number of transit riders, crowding and changes over time. This information is used to benefit both the TTC and riders alike by improving services and communications.

More benefits of Wi-Fi meta data collection and analysis:

  • Improved understanding of the paths taken through the subway system
  • Identification of overcrowding and how events and network changes affect it
  • Improved network planning and communication with customers so they can avoid congestion
  • Better management of service disruptions, staffing and safety
  • More informed decision making around schedules, station designs and station upgrades

How we protect your privacy

Protection of your privacy is a top priority and we have implemented several security measures designed to control and protect your Wi-Fi meta data. In addition to the hashing and salting of your MAC address (which anonymizes your data), we store the meta data in a secure, restricted location that can only be accessed by a select number of users which adhere to industry best practices and guidelines. The data is encrypted at all times.

Who can access your meta data?

Your anonymized meta data can only be accessed by authorized TTC and BAI Communications employees and workers. Aggregated data contains counts of numbers of devices and not individual anonymized MAC addresses. Learn more by reading BAI’s Terms & Conditions.

Requests from law enforcement to access this data are evaluated on a case-by-case basis to ensure the disclosure is lawful. Lawful disclosures are conducted in accordance with the terms of BAI’s Privacy Policy.

Questions or concerns?

If you have any questions or concerns regarding Wi-Fi meta data collection on the TTC, please contact privacy@baicanada.com.