The NS want to use customers’ phone signals for seat seeking aboard trains

The Dutch railway operator, the NS, are eager to use WiFi to help passengers find a free seat in advance aboard a train. So no more pushing and shoving trying to nab the only free seat? It’s a yes from us! But it needs to be cleared with Dutch Data Protection Authority amidst concerns over privacy. 

The current seat seeker

The NS already has a seat seeker but it is flawed. Udo Oelen, the Director of Privacy at NS, explains  “In the most modern train there would be a sensor in every seat, so that you can see for each seat where there is room. But the current NS trains do not have those sensors. ”

WiFi will enhance the seat seeker’s capability

The NS want to track the WiFi signals from mobile phones to assess what carriages people are in and how full they are. They can then determine how many free seats are available in each compartment.

Oelen states “It is important for us to make this information available so that people can better divide themselves on the train and the chance of getting a seat increases. For safety, too, it is better if crowds of people spread on the train. ”

Decision is yet to be finalised amidst privacy concerns

The location of travellers will be found via the mac address, which is unique on every mobile device. But this mac address also contains personal data which could breach the privacy law.

Oelen says the viability of such an app needs to be confirmed with the Dutch Data Protection Authority.

He tells Trouw “We realise that it is a charged issue when it comes to privacy.”

How do Dutch Railways overcome this privacy issue?

Oelen explains that Dutch Railways want to utilise the mac address in a sensor but no actually register the information from the mac address. He ensures “The Dutch Railways do not want to follow anyone, but only know how busy it will ultimately be in such a train.”

What do you think about this idea? Useful? Or are you concerned about privacy? Let us know in the comments. 

Feature image: Natydphoto/Pixabay 

Freya Sawbridge
Freya was born in Edinburgh but raised in New Zealand (cue every person she meets saying “oh I have always wanted to go there but it’s so far away!”). A restless and curious nature has led her to move countries 5 times in the last 3 years in attempt to find a place she can call home. She contacted DutchReview on a whim and arrived in the Netherlands in summer 2019 to start her internship.


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