Originally, the surveillance cameras beaming in the images — along with hundreds more citywide — were installed to monitor for crime and reckless boaters. But now they double as visitor trackers, a way for officials to spot crowds they want to disperse.
Officials say the phone-location data will also alert them to prevent the type of crowds that make crossing the city’s most famous bridges a daily struggle. In addition, they are trying to figure out how many visitors are day-trippers, who spend little time — and little of their money — in Venice.
Once officials establish such patterns, the information will be used to guide the use of the gates and the booking system. If crowds are expected on certain days, the system will suggest alternative itineraries or travel dates. And the admission fee will be adjusted to charge a premium, up to 10 euros, or about $11.60, on what are expected to be high-traffic days.
City leaders dismiss critics who fret about the invasion of privacy, saying that all of the phone data is gathered anonymously. The city is acquiring the information under a deal with TIM, an Italian phone company, which like many others is capitalizing on increased demand for data by law enforcement, marketing firms and other businesses.
In fact, data from Venetians is also being swept up, but city officials say they are receiving aggregated data and therefore, they insist, cannot use it to follow individuals. And the thrust of its program, they say, is to track tourists, whom they say they can usually spot by the shorter amount of time they stay in the city.
“Every one of us leaves traces,” said Marco Bettini, a manager at Venis, the I.T. company. “Even if you don’t communicate it, your phone operator knows where you sleep.” It also knows where you work, he said, and that on a specific day you are visiting a city that is not yours.
But Luca Corsato, a data manager in Venice, said the collection raises ethical questions because phone users probably have no idea a city could buy their data. He added that while cities have bought phone location data to monitor crowds at specific events, he was unaware of any other city making this “massive and constant” use of it to monitor tourists.