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Mobile phone data could soon replace census questionnaires

THE OFFICE OF NATIONAL STATISTICS (ONS) has said that, over the next few years, mobile phone data could be used instead of census questions.

As part of a plan backed by the UK government, ONS could discard traditional questionnaires in favour of data methods such as phone records.

The organisation regularly conducts population analysis tests, but much of its processes have stayed the same for years. It’s been conducting experimental analyses since 2015.

If these plans go ahead, the ONS will be able to find out where people live and work, which would likely make its research and statistics more accurate.

On Monday, it released an experimental report about commuting patterns. The ONS used data from Vodafone users aged over 18, which was collected between March and April 2016.

The information was compared to data from the 2011 poll, and it found that phone data can be used when analysing ethnicity, wealth and population levels across the UK.

Although the 2021 census will rely on questionnaires to extract data, the ONS could scrap this research method by 2023 if the pilot proves reliable.

The ONS is inviting the general public to decide the fate of the census research method, though, according to The Telegraph. Ian Cope, who will lead the 2021 census, praised the plan.

“We are looking at whether we could replace the census with information that is already held by government or others,” Cope told The Telegraph.

“Obviously that will reduce the burden on the public, and would be more cost-effective, and you could potentially produce estimates every year rather than every ten years.”

David Emm, principal security researcher at Kaspersky Lab, said: “In this era of connected devices and social media we often share important personal information without a second thought and without fully realising the consequences.  

“This proposal provides an illustration of how our personal data can be used. Clearly, there are potential benefits in this case – perhaps saving us all the need to complete a census questionnaire and saving the government money.” 

While there are certainly benefits to using mobile data in the census, Emm said there’s still need for caution. Emm continued: “It is also important that we recognise that our personal data can be equally valuable to cybercriminals. 

“New data protection laws are designed to make organisations more careful with our data, but regardless of this, it is important that, at an individual level, we know what information is being collected and stored and how it is being handled, which will also reduce the likelihood of it falling into the wrong hands.

“Being vigilant online – whether when using a work computer, home laptop, mobile or tablet device – needs to become second nature – like road safety.

“Undertaking simple steps, like regularly changing passwords, reviewing default privacy and security settings on social media and using Internet security software across all devices can significantly help protect our data.” µ

Source : Inquirer

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