People counting - Smart building

Are People Counting devices GDPR compliant?

The use of people counting devices often raises questions about privacy. Is it possible to obtain accurate data on room occupancy in a way that respects individual privacy and complies with GDPR? To answer this question, we need to look closely at how people counters work.
GDPR compliant Lock Image
Gdpr Compliant Image

The importance of privacy

The level of privacy afforded by a people counting system is important both to the people being counted and those using the data.

For the people being counted – whether it’s employees or members of the public – people counting devices can raise concerns about surveillance and invasion of personal privacy. Workplace surveillance, in particular, is on the rise, with employers using practices ranging from email monitoring to facial recognition and eye-tracking to analyze employee behavior.(1) It is sometimes assumed that people counters are another way businesses can monitor employees and the public.

For the employers and building managers who implement people counting systems, there’s another side to this coin: capturing personal information is a legal and financial burden. While it’s not generally illegal to film employees or the public on commercial premises, CCTV use must comply with strict regulations, including paying a data protection fee. If a people counting system captures personal identifiable information (PII), the captured data must be handled in compliance with GDPR, expending money and resources.

So, is it possible to realize the benefits of people counting without capturing personal identifiable information (PII)? As you may have guessed, the answer is yes – but it depends entirely on the people-counting technology you’re using.

Low resolution Time-of-Flight technology ensures 100% GDPR compliance and privacy protection

This is achieved through Time-of-Flight (ToF) technology. By emitting a pulse of near infrared light and measuring the time it takes for that pulse to reflect off the environment and back to the sensor, our people counters calculate depth information about their surroundings. The result is a low resolution “depth map” where each pixel corresponds to a distance measurement.

Mounted above a door or entry/exit, Terabee’s software interprets the depth map to decide what data corresponds to the approximation of a human form and what does not. Using entirely onboard processing, and the interpretation of these depth matrix, Terabee devices are able to filter out static objects and count people within the field of view.

GDPR compliant Time Of Flight Principle
GDPR compliant image

Intrinsic anonymity means images can't be captured

“Our goal is to bridge the physical world with the digital (and web) by adding the layer of understanding of what happens in a specific scene. To accomplish this, we need to capture shapes and movements. This is achieved primarily using the Time-of-Flight principle to perceive what is going on in the environment around us without using traditional cameras and expensive machine vision technology(3),” said Max Ruffo, Chief Executive Officer, Terabee.

“The result is highly accurate people counting data (typically 95% to 98%, or more) that does not capture any distinguishing features or personal information.(4,5) Terabee people counters are intrinsically anonymous in that it’s physically impossible for them to capture true images.”

When positioned above entrances and exits of a room, space or building, Terabee people counters accurately count people going in and out; even in crowded doorways with bi-directional traffic. This provides reliable room occupancy data without monitoring individual behavior.

Terabee people counters are GDPR compliant by design, meaning no privacy worries and no data-handling headaches.

Do camera-based people counting technologies offer true privacy?

Developers of camera-based people counting systems (including RGB and stereovision systems) often claim to protect personal privacy. However, while it may be true that these systems only output anonymous data, they capture high resolution images of people which are then processed by software in order to identify humans.

Commonly, the images captured by camera-based people counters will be post-processed to anonymize or pseudonymize them. However, the fact that this information is captured in the first place means that if such a system was hacked, the personal identifiable information could be accessed.

“When choosing a people counting system, it’s important to consider whether the information is intrinsically anonymous or simply anonymized to protect people’s identities after the fact,” said Max Ruffo. “If you had to explain to your employees that the RGB camera will not output personal data, how do you assure them that this will be the case forever? Actually, are you sure that the device will not take some images now and then, with the images being shipped over the internet for “whatever” purpose?”

Because Terabee people counters are not capable of gathering normal RGB images, privacy is protected even in the event of hacking or misuse.

Advantages of Terabee people counters

We designed our people counters to be as easy to use as possible: they can be installed indoors above any doorway and can be configured in minutes.

Once installed, Terabee people counters provide immediate access to valuable time-series room occupancy data, which businesses can use to make more informed decisions over the allocation of space and resources. From identifying under or over utilized space, to automating HVAC and lighting in response to room occupancy, the data provided by people counters can be used in a number of ways to improve productivity and reduce business running costs.(6)

With efficient sensors and no need for external data processing, Terabee people counters provide access to accurate room occupancy data at a fraction of the cost of other systems. Data from our people counters can be transmitted via Power-over-Ethernet or LoRaWAN, to enable easy integration into any network.

GDPR compliant sensors

We provide two different people counting systems. The People Counting L-XL features a wide field of view (1.50 x 1.10 m when installed at a height of 2.40 m). Multiple units can be easily connected together to provide coverage of extra-wide entranceways up to 15 m across.

The smaller People Counting M squeezes ToF sensing technology into an even more concise package to deliver a versatile solution suitable for small single doorways. You can mix the two devices and have them work together, since the output format is the same. When equipping a large installation, the possibility of mixing the products offers the opportunity to lower the total installation cost.

If you’re looking for an accurate and cost-effective people counting solution that guarantees privacy, get in touch with Terabee today to find out more about our people counting solutions.

References and further reading

  1. TUC. I’ll be watching you – What is workplace monitoring? [online] Available at: https://www.tuc.org.uk/i%E2%80%99ll-be-watching-you-what-workplace-monitoring
  2. Terabee (2022) Types of people traffic counters: Characteristics and applications [online] Available at: https://www.terabee.com/types-of-people-traffic-counters-characteristics-and-applications/
  3. Startup.info (2021) Terabee Speeding Up New Product And Application Developments [online] Available at: https://startup.info/dr-max-ruffo-terabee/
  4. Terabee (2019) Depth Sensors: Precision & Personal Privacy [online] Available at: https://www.terabee.com/depth-sensors-precision-personal-privacy/
  5. Terabee. People Counting Device (GDPR Compliant) | 98% Counting Accuracy [online] Available at: https://www.terabee.com/shop/people-counting/terabee-people-counting-l/
  6. Terabee (2022) Occupancy monitoring: what it is & why it’s essential [online] Available at: https://www.terabee.com/occupancy-monitoring-101-what-it-is-why-its-essential/

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