In a unique partnership with with audio-visual & event creation company acTVty and technology group Cronos, Orange Belgium is launching a new mobile application today that monitors crowd density all over Belgium in real time. Orange Belgium hereby capitalizes on their proven experience in anonymizing nationwide customer data into a simple and comprehensive heat map representing crowd density.
In the last few days before Christmas and New Year, many consumers traditionally need to do some last minute Christmas shopping. This year though, they need to do so in the safest possible way by avoiding dense crowds and respecting the safety measures that are in place. Orange Belgium and its partners responded to this urgent need by launching a free mobile application offering information on crowd density in the whole country, a few months after making such information available via the YouFlanders app.
Data from the crowd, for the crowd
Anonymizing and aggregating the number of mobile connections to Orange Belgium’s network makes it possible to extrapolate the outcome to all mobile users from all networks in that area and translate the result into a user-friendly colour code: ‘red’ means the area is crowded while ‘green’ means it’s calm and not crowded. Much like some weather apps, the analysis takes place in near-real time as the information is never more than 5 minutes old.
The density colour of an area is calculated as the average number of mobile connections in the last 30 minutes offset against the maximum density registered since June 2020. Also important to note: as it doesn’t rely on information provided by the app itself; Crowdsurfer doesn’t need a large number of users to provide relevant data and also respects their privacy because it only reports the number of smartphones connected within a specific zone.
Upcoming features to predict crowd density
The current version of Crowdsurfer is the initial version of the app that already allows people to check how crowded an area is and to safely plan their activities accordingly. From that perspective the mobile app enables people to take back control of their own safety in the fight against the Covid19 pandemic by not inadvertently entering crowded areas. In the coming months, Orange Belgium, Cronos and acTVty intend to further develop and refine the solution by introducing crowd prediction at specific times during the day as well as aggregating new data sources and counters from within the inner cities, tourist areas, theme parks,… to improve the granularity of the projection.
Respect for user privacy
The Crowdsurfer app is fully compliant with applicable privacy regulations as it relies on traffic data from the Orange Belgium network. Put simply, the app doesn’t use any information that comes directly from the user. The sources for the analysis are aggregated, anonymized at the source and filtered via specific algorithms to ensure compliance with the regulations on the protection of personal data at all times.
Werner De Laet, Chief Enterprise, Innovation and Wholesale Officer at Orange Belgium, explains: "A relevant usage of technology can help overcome social challenges and the Crowdsurfer app is an excellent case in point. Not only do we use the information from our network to help avoid large gatherings but we actually restore the customers’ power to use the information they provide us while staying strongly committed to protecting their privacy. Moreover, we do believe such a tool will prove useful, not only in the fight against the Covid19 pandemic but for many future applications as well.”
Sam Bambust, Managing Partner at Cronos, declares: “We at Cronos are always committed to look at every opportunity we can find to improve people’s day to day lives. Even more so in these unprecedented times. Meaningful change can’t come from good intentions and ideas alone. That’s why our thinkers, doers & techies at Cronos were happy to partner on a project that would clearly contribute to a safer and better tomorrow.”
Abe Wouters, managing partner at acTVty NV, declares: “In the same way that we want to know about the weather as we go out the door, info about crowding should become part of our general knowledge of the world around us. As such, we aim to put this knowledge at everybody’s fingertips, and we can have this, through the collaboration with Orange Belgium, without having to sacrifice any personal freedom or privacy.”