Hovering in the background of all these questions is perhaps the biggest unanswered question of all: how do we deal with the privacy problem? While it is well understood in the industry how user data is anonymised, it is not hard to see how a misleading picture of ‘big brother’ monitoring your journey through life could be conjured up by an alarmist press or impressionable politician. Mobile operators may also preciously guard knowledge of their customers’ habits and demographics. These are questions that modellers will need to take seriously and to treat with great tact and sensitivity, acknowledging the serious and legitimate concerns. If we ignore or wave these issues away, the era of big data modelling could grind to halt before it has really begun.
There is no doubt that multi-modal transport modelling is at the start of something. Big data has arrived but how big it gets, and how much more is to come, is yet to be seen. Equally, there is no doubt that the industry is responding in a lively and thoughtful way to the changes, although there is always room for better communication to those outside, especially to allay fears – real and imagined - about privacy. But we should keep in mind that the knowledge, expertise and values that have been built over previous decades are still potent, still deeply relevant in the modern age, and the people who embody that knowledge and those values remain the industry’s greatest assets.
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