08/14/2013 06:06 EDT | Updated 10/14/2013 05:12 EDT

Live traffic map uses Vancouver drivers' cell phone data

Drivers in the Vancouver area are unknowingly helping to track traffic congestion, as their cell phone GPS signals are being automatically fed into a new online traffic map.

TransLink, Transport Canada, and B.C.'s Transportation Ministry have unveiled an online, colour-coded traffic map of the Lower Mainland with real-time updates that indicate areas of congestion.

"It tracks your cell phone signals, and based on that, it directs that data online," said TransLink’s Gianna Ling.

"So when you check and see exactly if there is traffic currently in the area you're wishing to travel to, you can plan accordingly," said Ling.

TransLink says personal information is removed from the cell phone data before it is pushed to the map.

But Tom Keenan, an online security expert at the University of Calgary, says he questions how secure the software is.

"If they did a good job, the hackers will walk away and say 'we can't get anything.' If they did a bad job, you can be rest assured that your Uncle Charlie is going to be tracked on the freeway."

Micheal Vonn, policy director for the BC Civil Liberties Association, says TransLink failed to commission a privacy impact assessment for the map — something they are legally bound to do.

"In the rush to use these new technologies, the obvious steps for consideration around privacy and security have been missed," Vonn said.

The $1.2 million project covers all numbered highways in Metro Vancouver between Whistler, Chilliwack and White Rock.

It is available on DriveBC, via the map view on both the website and mobile app. Users should select the option for Metro-Vancouver Traffic Data.

Transport authorities will also use the data to help plan future updates and improvements to highways.