Cabinet Office to pay £300k for mobile data tracking to 'prevent Covid transmission risk'

"Mobile-based location services and digital advertising experts" to monitor footfall and social distancing in shopping "hotspots"
Emodo will analyse people's movements at "choke points" in travel hubs such as Birmingham New Street Station (above). Photo: Flickr/Elliott Brown/CC BY-SA 2.0

The Cabinet Office has agreed to pay a “data activation and monetisation” company up to £300,000 to analyse mobile phone data tracking people's movements to inform and reduce the economic cost of regional lockdowns.

A contract notice published last week shows Emodo, part of Swedish telecoms company Ericsson, has been contracted to determine how many people are visiting shopping hotspots and other locations, and to what extent they are maintaining social distancing.

It will present twice-weekly reports to the Joint Biosecurity Centre, the unit set up to determine Covid-19 alert levels; No.10; and the Covid-19 task force – a group advising ministers and coordinating the cross-government response to the pandemic.

“The Joint Biosecurity Centre, the C-19 Task Force, and No.10 need to understand where are the mobility hotspots in the UK, so to prevent Covid transmission risk and limit the economic cost of regional lockdowns,” the Cabinet Office said in a contract notice.

For a three-month period, the company will present spreadsheets of "mobility analysis" both at regional and more local level, according to a contract document.

Emodo is also providing “forensic analysis for locations of concern”, examining areas of particular interest, as well as people’s journeys in specified regions or to and from particular locations.

For each UK region, it will produce a list of the top five to 10 “hotspots” – the locations with the highest density, or failing that, the highest volume of visitors during peak hours. It will analyse daily and hourly footfall, as well as people’s proximity to one another, in those locations.

The San Francisco-based company will identify “places of interest” – including shops, parks, transit centres and cinemas – in those hotspots, and identify any overlap with an “existing list of priority POIs”. 

As well as the regional lists, Emodo will surveil footfall and personal distance in 11 “retail hotspots” including Oxford Street and Westfield in London; New Street in Birmingham; the Arndale Centre in Manchester; and Princes Street in Edinburgh. It will look at footfall, personal distance, and dates and times of visitors on both weekdays and weekends.

It will produce similar analysis for a list of high street in five to 10 towns with populations of between 75,000 and 200,000 – with Hitchin in North Hertfordshire given as an example.

And it will provide analysis for 14 transport hubs, including London Victoria, Bristol Temple Meads, Leeds and Sheffield rail station, with “deeper analysis” of “choke points” at exits and entrances.

Emodo describes itself as the "data activation and monetisation arm" of Ericsson, made up of "experts in mobile-based location services, digital advertising, and enterprise software as a service". It provides consumer insights to clients and claims to be at the "leading edge of mobile advertising". It also claims to have the "largest, most accurate mobile dataset" of mobile carrier data.

The contract runs from 1 September to 1 December and is worth up to £300,000, and also includes a requirement for “bespoke mobility analysis” for “priority issues” as and when required.

The contract was awarded under special procurement rules enabling government departments to award contracts for “extremely urgent deliverables as part of the response to unforeseeable consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic”.

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