Stephen E. Arnold: Phone Data Value And What Companies Are Doing With It

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Stephen E. Arnold
Stephen E. Arnold

Phone Data Value And What Companies Are Doing With It

May 23, 2013

Smartphones are an extension of a person’s life and they record it every time a person uses it. Smithsonian Magazine takes a look at how phone companies are tracking and using the data from phones in, “What Phone Companies Are Doing With All That Data From Your Phone.” Verizon Wireless is aware of the phone data goldmine and has added a new division called Precision Market Insights and Telefonica is adding a new business unit Telefonica Dynamic Insights to do the same thing. Phone data is being used for market, medical, and social science research. The biggest usage is tracking how people move in real time. The data collected is supposed to remain anonymous, but that is not happening.

People can be tracked:

“But a study published in Scientific Reports in March found that even data made anonymous may not be so anonymous after all. A team of researchers from Louvain University in Belgium, Harvard and M.I.T. found that by using data from 15 months of phone use by 1.5 million people, together with a similar dataset from Foursquare, they could identify about 95 percent of the cell phones users with just four data points and 50 percent of them with just two data points. A data point is an individual’s approximate whereabouts at the approximate time they’re using their cell phone.”

People’s travel and cell phone patterns are repetitive and unique, making it easy to narrow down results to an individual user. Anonymity is a hard thing to achieve with a smartphone. To confuse the data, a person could get two mobile phones, but then does that increase the fun or increase the risk?

Whitney Grace, May 23, 2013

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