About WatTrack

1. What is WatTrack?

WatTrack is a smartphone application that records location and time information for users who volunteer to participate in the GPS study of Establishing Baseline Tour Behaviour Data through Smart Phone data collection in Downtown Kitchener, the research project being undertaken by Andrea Mikkila at the University of Waterloo.  The data are gathered on the phone and transmitted to the WatTrack server where are they are stored securely in Montréal, Québec, Canada.

2. Who made WatTrack?

WatTrack was developed by a team of transportation engineers at the University of Waterloo, in Ontario Canada in iSYSIGN company.

3. What platforms does WatTrack work on?

Right now, WatTrack works for android devices and iPhones.

4. What information is collected by WatTrack?

WatTrack records a user’s latitude and longitude, altitude, the time, and the speed at which the user was traveling.  This information is recorded every 3 seconds.  WatTrack also monitors the battery levels for the user’s phone to know how much battery is necessary to make the system work.

You will also be asked to complete an optional one-time survey within the app that will help us to understand general demographic characteristics such as age range, gender, etc. You may decline to answer any questions that you do not wish to answer and you can withdraw your participation at any time by uninstalling the smart phone application like any other app.

5. How is the information gathered by WatTrack used?

Traveler information – where people travel, when they travel, what mode they travel by – is very valuable for transportation planners and engineers.  When a city or region like Kitchener-Waterloo is considering making a transportation investment – a new highway, a transit route extension, or even a bicycle path – it is necessary to have good data about individuals’ travel demand.  Planners often gather that information by asking people to fill out surveys.  WatTrack complements surveys by gathering observed travel data from volunteers easily and inexpensively.

6. Is WatTrack safe to use?  It seems like WatTrack knows a lot about travelers.

The WatTrack system protects personal information in many ways. 

First, WatTrack transmits all the information in an encrypted format and stores all the information on a secure server.  Second, WatTrack doesn’t keep any personal information together with the travel data.  In other words, WatTrack has data on where a person travels, but that person’s data are only associated with a study ID, not directly with any personally identifying information.

7. But what about the GPS information WatTrack collects?  Won’t you know where a participant lives / works?

WatTrack does gather data on a person’s travel patterns.  But, to protect that person’s personal information, WatTrack doesn’t share that information with anyone except the members of the University of Waterloo research team working on this study and the person who generated the data.  

It is important for you to know that any information that you provide will be confidential. All of the data will be summarized and no individual will be identified from these summarized results. Furthermore, the application is programmed to collect only GPS coordinates and will not collect any information that could potentially identify you (such as machine identifiers). However, the more information you provide, the greater the results of the study, but no question is required to be answered. If you prefer not to submit your survey responses through the app or do not want to provide your email, please do not sign up for this study.

Following data collection, the first and last 30 seconds of each collection period will be removed to ensure your home address or work address is not likely discernable.

8. Can a participant see the data that WatTrack gathers?

Yes!  When the participant downloads and installs the app, she will be given access to the WatTrack web page where she can see all of her travel information within 1 to 2 weeks.

9. What if a participant installs WatTrack, then wants to stop using it?

WatTrack has to be turned on each time the participant wants to generate travel information.  If the user doesn’t want to gather data, he simply doesn’t turn it on.  If the user never wants to generate information again, WatTrack can be uninstalled just like any other app. 

10. Is WatTrack a major drain on the battery?

One of the concerns we know that smartphone users have is around battery life.  So, we’ve tried to optimize WatTrack’s power consumption.  We’re also always monitoring users’ battery levels to reduce battery usage as the remaining power falls below a certain level.

11. What if a user has WatTrack running, but loses her internet connection?

In this case, WatTrack stores the information on the user’s phone until she reconnects.  When she does, multiple uploads will occur so the phone can “catch up” on the backlog of data. Mobile data may be used to collect GPS data, but this option may be disabled within the app settings to limit data collection to WIFI for syncing.

12. If a user is interested, but still has concerns, who should be contacted?

We are always trying to understand and address potential users’ concerns; we also get great ideas to improve WatTrack or add new functions.  Feel free to contact either Andrea Mikkila at aemikkil@uwaterloo.ca or by phone at 1-519-502-7756 or Dr. Jeffrey Casello at jcasello@uwaterloo.ca or Dr. Robert Feick at rdfeick@uwaterloo.ca and we’ll get back to you ASAP.

This study has been reviewed and received ethics clearance through a University of Waterloo Research Ethics Committee (ORE#21948). If you have questions for the Committee contact the Chief Ethics Officer, Office of Research Ethics, at 1-519-888-4567 ext. 36005 or ore-ceo@uwaterloo.ca. For more information please read the information letter.