Russia: Government wants to locate citizens’ residences using data from mobile operators


The Rosstat Office is negotiating with mobile operators about the use of big data technology in the upcoming test population census.

The Federal State Statistics Service (Rosstat) is negotiating with mobile operators to win their cooperation in conducting a test population census using big data technology. This was revealed at a round table in Veliky Novgorod by head of Rosstat Alexander Surinov.

The pilot census will be held in October 2018 and will be a rehearsal for the All-Russia Population Census scheduled for 2020. In the first stage, the survey will be conducted via the Internet. In the second stage, the census will be conducted in a traditional manner by census takers questioning citizens. This will occur in certain territories of a number of Russian regions, including Moscow, St. Petersburg and others. Rosstat is responsible for conducting the population census.

Surinov said that Rosstat wants to receive information from mobile operators about which apartments people live in. The head of Rosstat believes that operators are aware of this due to data on the passage of the cellular signal: “Our workers are knocking on the door, but no one opens it. But mobile operators will be able to tell us that these apartments receive a signal, so people live in them, and it makes sense to continue knocking.”

The General Director of the Society for the Protection of the Internet (OZI), Mikhail Klimarev, has spoken about the unrealistic nature of Rosstat’s wishes. “The margin of error in determining the location of a subscriber to cellular networks in a city is 50 meters, and it is impossible to determine which apartment the signal is coming from,” Klimarev said. “Theoretically, actual data on who is living in apartments could be obtained from landline internet providers. But even that is not fully usable, because the level of broadband internet access in Russia is just over 50%.”

A source from one of the cellular operators says that telecom companies are indeed negotiating with Rosstat on providing data for the census, but on other aspects. “Thanks to the big data technology, we can determine the actual number of residents in specific communities, as well as their gender,” he says. “This will allow Rosstat to verify the reliability of the data obtained from the census.”

Translated from RosKomSvoboda: