a monkey made me do it

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Oyster - good or evil?

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This is an Oyster card. It's an RFID smartcard that you use for transport in London.

It's got some great advantages for the traveller. it's far more convenient than a paper ticket - you can just whack your wallet against the the card reader without having to take the card out. You can renew season tickets from the web, and they'll automatically get loaded onto your card when you go through a nominated station. And you don't have to use it as a season ticket, it also has a pre-pay function; you load on, say, a tenner, and start making journeys. The system charges you for single journeys, but if you would have been better off buying a one day bus pass or travelcard, then it'll cap your day's charges at that.

Some types of tickets require you to register your card with TfL. This has benefits too; if you lose your card, report it to TfL and they'll be able to give you a replacement card with everything still on it. They can't do this with paper tickets. They'll also send you emails with updates on routes you use frequently.

There are also some clear incentives to use the card. Some types of season tickets are no longer available as paper tickets, and tube and bus fares cost more (in some cases twice as much) if you pay by cash instead of Oyster.

This leads to one big downside - it penalises tourists and visitors to London, who might not understand the Oyster system, or don't want to pay a £3 deposit for a card. It's also not good for infrequent travellers, who might not want to give Mayor Ken lots of money up front.

The main drawback is privacy. They know about every journey you make. I got an email today telling me that the 29 bus is changing its route - but I didn't tell TfL that I use the 29. Could it be used for more sinister purposes. What could they be doing with all this data about my travel patterns? Are they colluding with my employers to work out my shift times and deliberately make me late?

Personally, I like it. Should I be more worried?

Steve says:

Every tourist guide will explain Oyster, and as you say it is a refundable £3 deposit.

I love oyster it really works for me and my life style.

Ok so they make money on the interest but that brings down the overall charge, public transport does need to be paid for some how.

I would be more worried about "Loyalty cards" myself. Targetted advertising is a very nasty thing!

11th Jan 2006, 00:01

spongevid says:

i don't really understand the people being worried about being "tracked" for every movement they make on public transport.

if you aren't doing anything wrong and simply going from point A to B, why should it bother you if "they" know you are.
i'm sure somehow that MIGHT be handy if someone got lost/kidnapped or something of the sort, and they could trace the last time they were "seen" was in *insert place in london here*

11th Jan 2006, 00:17

bronxelf says:

"if you aren't doing anything wrong and simply going from point A to B, why should it bother you if "they" know you are."

Sorry. I don't think it's even the *remotest* business of the government to track my movements like that. That's why I turned in my EZ pass years ago- I don't *want* the government tracking where I go, and when, and by what route.

NYC metrocards don't have this problem, as they're not personally assignable, thank goodness. But I do think that the paper ticket thing on the Underground really sucks-- far too easily mangled.

11th Jan 2006, 00:36

Steve says:

And bad for the enviroment!

Why would the goverment want to track you?

Maybe in a future where you become a political activist? governments have been known to silence people in the past (Chile 1970's)

But with Oyster you don't have to register it to you.

11th Jan 2006, 00:40

bronxelf says:

Steve-- I keep asking the same question. And yet, that's what they're doing. This doesn't make me feel any better. I can see *no reason* that sounds like a good one for tracking, and yet the data *is* being compiled. Do *YOU* trust the US government? Cause I sure as hell don't.

If they're not personally assignable, then there's no issue. Then it's just raw data. It's when it becomes assignable that there's a problem, like it is with EZ Pass. Where that pass is assigned *to you*.

11th Jan 2006, 00:43

DocD says:

Its a plastic card... I understand da civil lib stuff but calling it evil? George Bush is evil

11th Jan 2006, 00:44

bronxelf says:

Who called it evil?

ETA: Never mind- I didn't see it was a reference to the title of the post. Sorry about that.

11th Jan 2006, 00:47

It's not the government it's beyond them, but don't get me started on conspiracy theories or I'll probably be dead by tomorrow morning.

The Oyster card is a tracking system, yes... but "they" can probably track you without them anyway, you've probably been tracked since the day you were born, I bet someone out there knows everytime you take a shit or everytime you have a wank.

I just refuse to get an Oyster card because I don't want to make it that easy. I guess if you're just using it to get to and from work everyday the information is pretty pointless even if they track you. So they know when you've pulled a sickie, big deal. I'm not too concerned about the Oyster card I just wanna hear people's opinions.

11th Jan 2006, 00:50

Dhamaka says:

B'elf you've said it all for me. Once again 'Enemy of the State', or check my sidebars because most of them are about freedom.

I've not broken any laws (at least not consciously) and am not planning on breaking them but allowing *anyone* to gather and track my personal data is anathema to me. Thinking that all that data will be collected and not used is IMO naive and counter to human nature, government and business behaviour

btw, check out the No2id site if you haven't already

11th Jan 2006, 00:52

Dhamaka says:

Miss A - true, even though we can be tracked, we have to draw a line somewhere, even though anything we do is already probably too little too late

11th Jan 2006, 00:53

bronxelf says:

if the card isn't assigned to you personally (you pay with cash, not a CC, there's nothing assigning the card to you personally) then that's raw data-- it shows how many people take x route at x time of day. It can be used to aid the transport system into being more efficient. NYC is much the same way in that respect. Metrocards (our version of the Oystercard) aren't personally assignable, provided you're paying for them with cash, etc. However there's a difference between those and EZ passes, which are for your car, and allow you to pass through tolls on roadways, by taking the money directly from your account using a RFID tag that mounts in your car. When they first came out, many years ago, they offered a discount for people who used EZ passes rather than cash or tokens (sadly, they don't make the tokens anymore.). Now it largely costs you precisely the same, regardless, though your trip time is improved with the EZ pass.

However... I drew the line and ripped the thing out of my car when I learned they were setting up EZ pass transponders all the way up and down the New York State Thruway-- *not* just at the toll plazas. There was no way to learn what they were tracking, *why* they were tracking it, and who got the data. How about er.... no. So I paid cash from then on out.

But so long as you're paying with cash for your Oyster (or Metrocard), then I don't see any way that the card gets trackable back to you, personally, and as such, don't much care. It's better than a paper ticket, anyway. :)

11th Jan 2006, 00:57

Steve says:

Off topic slightly

"George Bush is evil" hmm now I don't like him or his policies, but evil? misguided perhaps, stupid? possibly, greedy? maybe, Evil? I'm not sure if he's smart enough to be evil, but then again maybe he's just got me fooled.

11th Jan 2006, 01:27

lizziepants says:

I can assure you -- the data gathered from Oyster and other such prepaid transportation passes are very deeply studied and surveyed and used in various governmental (read: devious) manners. I can't really divulge how/why I know this -- but it's very real.

I'm not too opinionated on whether it's for the greater good or not -- but I appreciate my personal privacy and dislike anyone snooping into my patterns.

George Bush.. epitome of evil.

11th Jan 2006, 01:54

Dhamaka says:

Steve - the road to hell is paved with...

11th Jan 2006, 08:11

Steve says:

Being an ex catholic (I have been without god for 15 years now, feels proud) I don't tend to use the word Evil lightly.

I think there would be many people further up the list than him.

People get the leaders they deserve, if he is evil then so are all the people that allow him to stay in power.

11th Jan 2006, 11:00

seaneeboy says:

Bush? Not evil. Just thick.

11th Jan 2006, 11:51

mat says:

Not thick. You don't get to be one of the most powerful men on the planet (puppet or otherwise) by being stupid.

I'd say probably evil though. Affiliation with PNAC proves that.

btw - if anyone's government wants to track any of us, that's easy. for one thing, your mobile phone constantly updates on your location, your cashcard leaves a trail, your email can be scanned, etc. etc.

11th Jan 2006, 11:57

seaneeboy says:

Cheerfully retracted - I'll settle for a "Misguided" :)

11th Jan 2006, 11:59

Steve says:

"Not thick. You don't get to be one of the most powerful men on the planet (puppet or otherwise) by being stupid." Really? Reagan did it!

On the tracking note Echelon
(edited because you forgot an </a>)

11th Jan 2006, 12:11

teflon says:

Just wanted to make a wee point about registering your card - you don't have to do so if you are only using (I think) pre-pay, or a 7 day travelcard or bus pass. All other types of tickets have to be registered (including the under-16 photocard that also acts as a free bus pass).

b'elf: some roads in the UK have number plate recognition cameras at various points along the road. They are currently used to collate traffic flow information - eg to work out how long cars are taking to get from A to B, and if it's a lot longer than usual, then pass the information on to police, travel information providers, etc. In some places, they use it to identify untaxed vehicles, and then send police cars after them. But surely it's only another step before they start sending speeding tickets to owners of vehicles that get between A and B too quickly, or keeping track of where the cars are...

Lizzie: your comment got me thinking. Transport for London is a public body. As such, they're covered by the Freedom of Information Act (2000). I'm going to ask them what information they store about Oyster card users' journeys, what they use it for, and how long they keep it for.

Also, since they're an organisation who hold information about me, I've got a right to ask them for a copy of that information, under the Data Protection Act (1996).

So I'm going to do that.

11th Jan 2006, 12:13

Steve says:

Thanks, although I tend to use "/w" I have no idea what either does, I feel like laika sometimes!

11th Jan 2006, 12:21

Dhamaka says:

Mat - I know that, just because it can be done doesn't mean we have to make it easy, roll over and say 'do what you want, here's all my data'..

Teflon, I'd be very interested to see what you get, the kind of data, what they say and whether they talk about 'joined up government' which you'll probably remember was a *big thing* a while ago

11th Jan 2006, 12:33

Steve says:

"Teflon, I'd be very interested to see what you get" Don't tell her, she is trying to track you!

11th Jan 2006, 12:38

Dhamaka says:

Spotted - *shrugs*
nevatrustahack, eh Steve... ;)

11th Jan 2006, 13:07

Steve says:


11th Jan 2006, 13:16

shark says:


The answers to your questions about what they do with the data have been answered already. Try the TfL and Oystercard websites.

Your point about numberplate recognition cameras is also an interesting one. The system is being used to stop people breaking the laws of the land. In this case, they are important laws (driving a vehicle that is potentially unsafe, driving a vehicle faster than is allowed).

And to the tin hat bridage:

Get a grip. If the Government (or its agencies) wanted to track you, they could do a far better job of it than a transport ticket. After all, you don't need to prove your address when using Oyster. Nor do you have to register for many types of ticket. Nor is there anything (realistically) stopping you using somebody else's Oyster, even if the conditions for type of ticket loaded on to it forbids you from doing so.

So, as you can see, Oyster isn't really an appropriate means to track people. Certainly not as good as, say, visual appearance. And there's already an extensive network in place across London Transport (and, indeed, elsewhere) for tracking that!

Stop being worried about it and get on with your life, and leave us sensible people to lobby in an appropriate manner about the real issues surrounding privacy and civil liberties (which entails talking to MPs about bills they're going to vote on).


11th Jan 2006, 14:36

seaneeboy says:

I ate some oysters over christmas. They were rather nice.

Just thought I'd throw that in to the discussion.

11th Jan 2006, 14:57

spinboy says:

What's everyone's favourite brand of foil for their hats? I quite like some of the aluminium foil that 3M produces. You can make some quite decrotive two and three prong hats out of that.

11th Jan 2006, 15:39

teflon says:

SHARK: http://www.tfl.gov.uk/tfl/nftt_dataprotection.shtml doesn't seem to imply that they will collect data about my journey and use it to inform me about changes to those services.

11th Jan 2006, 15:43

Dhamaka says:

we all have to pick our battles, one of the wonderful things about this "free" country is that we can..

and of course we all believe what we read too, don't we

I have a big problem with oysters, love the taste, hate the texture. Solutions please on a postcard to....

11th Jan 2006, 16:48

jc1000000 says:

Don't chew em! :-P

11th Jan 2006, 16:55

Dhamaka says:

duh.. :D

11th Jan 2006, 16:56

ladislav says:

Shark: Yes, if they want to, they can track individual people more carefully without using Oyster cards. It's expensive and labour-intensive, though. They can't track everybody on the off-chance that they might want to know about their movements in a couple of years' time, like Oyster cards allow them to do.

Personally, I resist having one (easy in Glasgow, but I do visit London often enough). But I have a mobile phone. It's all about tradeoffs, I suppose...

11th Jan 2006, 17:42

bronxelf says:

Teflon said:But surely it's only another step before they start sending speeding tickets to owners of vehicles that get between A and B too quickly, or keeping track of where the cars are...


And got it in one. That's why I ripped the thing out of my car initially. Then it became more about why should anyone be allowed to track me like that? In those days I didn't have a cell phone-- when I was out, I was out.

Now theyre talking about inserting RFID chips in US passports. Ever so glad I got mine before that nonsense and won't have to think about it for another ten years, though Im sure an entire industry will crop up just to find a way to block the chip.

12th Jan 2006, 03:55

Dhamaka says:

reassuring thought b'elf

12th Jan 2006, 05:23

bronxelf says:

Why are you *awake*? It's like 5:30am there.

12th Jan 2006, 05:25

Dhamaka says:

*grins* do I ever ask you the same question? (any more) Argentina looking suddenly problematic, need to work, going training in 15 min..

good evening to you too!

12th Jan 2006, 05:26

bronxelf says:

*chuckles* This five hour time difference blows, lady.

12th Jan 2006, 05:30

Dhamaka says:


12th Jan 2006, 05:32

ladislav says:

And suddenly I get an image of Dhamaka as an elite snake-eating Special Forces type, called in at a moment's notice to a blacked-out Ops Room hidden under an abandoned warehouse:

"Evening chaps. As you all know, we're having a spot of bother in Argentina. We'll explain in more detail on the flight, but Alpha and Bravo teams will go in through the Embassy roof using plasma cutters, while Charlie team wire up the garden with Claymores and Delta team distract the Argentinian media by holding the national football team hostage. Any questions? Good show. Flight in fifteen".

Bronxelf: I think you may want one of these. Although, actually it sounds like they might be doing it sensibly. "Might", note you.

12th Jan 2006, 18:49

Dhamaka says:


I'm gonna point all of my friends to that... you have *no* idea.....

12th Jan 2006, 18:51

Helen says:

Must get an Oyster card this weekend.

I figure, I work for the government, so they know exactly where I am most days. Oh well.

Now, the Boots Advantage Card. That's real evil.

12th Jan 2006, 21:45

bronxelf says:

Ladislav-- oooooo.... I want one of THOSE.....

12th Jan 2006, 21:47

Dhamaka says:

*runs off to buy silver foil* :p

13th Jan 2006, 08:15

shark says:

The Boots Advantage Card is really evil? It often saves me 12p in the pound!

So, Boots know when I last had a cold, and that I bought a game of Monopoly from them just before Christmas. I am not sure this is life-altering.

17th Jan 2006, 15:17

seaneeboy says:

*Goes off to buy rolls of kitchen foil, ensuring to get ironic tesco clubcard points*

17th Jan 2006, 16:32

Helen says:

Got my Oyster. They weren't interested in taking my name and details. Just took my money and handed it over. So, they can track me, but they don't know who I am. Except I used my debit card to top it up.

17th Jan 2006, 17:52

shark says:

But, to find out any personally identifiable information, other than your surname and first name initial, they'd have to get your bank to break the Data Protection Act.

18th Jan 2006, 14:07

seaneeboy says:

Wicked :)

18th Jan 2006, 14:20