Mobile Phone Data to Help with the Census

Working in partnership with Vodafone, over a four-week period between March and April 2016, the ONS collected mobile phone data from a sample of users over the age of 18 across three London boroughs.

The information gathered revealed people’s commuting patterns between the boroughs of Croydon, Lambeth and Southwark, detailing when they were at work and when at home. The methodology was based on the location of the individual’s device at night or when switched on in the morning, while the work location was determined by the location of the phone during standard working hours, Monday to Friday.

The ONS reported the results were positive, showing a “good correlation” with the data collected during the last census in 2011.

The initiative was launched in response to Government’s plan to move away from traditional census surveys and embrace new methods involving ‘administrative’ data.

The ONS hopes the use of mobile data will help it to improve the statistics that are part of its census data and the efficiency of the census process overall. If new, automated methods are successful in the forthcoming 2021 census, the strategy could be rolled out fully for the 2023 census.

To comply with Data Protection laws, the ONS stressed that it only looked at location data and the timestamps created when mobile phones interacted with the mobile network. No identifiable personal information such as phone numbers, details of owners or recordings were logged.

The full report can be read here