Tom Simonite reports:
Cell phone companies are finding that they’re sitting on a gold mine–in the form of the call records of their subscribers.
Researchers in academia, and increasingly within the mobile industry, are working with large databases showing where and when calls and texts are made and received to reveal commuting habits, how far people travel for public events, and even significant social trends.
The data set is a collection of call detail records, or CDRs–the standard feedstock of cell phone data mining. A CDR is generated for every voice or SMS connection. Among other things, it shows the origin and destination number, the type and duration of connection, and, most crucially, the unique ID of the cell tower a handset was connected to when a connection was made.
Research in this area is typically focused on aggregate information and not individuals, but questions remain about how to protect user privacy, Blondel says. It is standard to remove the names and numbers from a CDR, but correlating locations and call timings with other databases could help identify individuals, he says. In the MIT study, for example, the team could infer the approximate home location of users by assuming it to be where a handset was most located between 10 p.m. and 7a.m., although they also lumped people together into groups by zip code.
Read more in the MIT Technology Review.
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