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    British Psychological Society: The tantalising potential of mobile phones for social research

    British Psychological Society blog reports on a new study on using cellphone data to spy on social behavior. The study, Inferring friendship network structure by using mobile phone data, is by researcher Nathan Eagle. Eagle’s study found, “Data collected from mobile phones have the potential to provide insight into the relational dynamics of individuals.”

    For nine months, Eagle’s team recorded data from the phones of 94 students and staff at MIT. By using blue-tooth technology and phone masts, they could monitor the movements of the participants, as well as their phone calls. Their main goal with this preliminary study was to compare data collected from the phones with subjective self-report data collected through traditional survey methodology.

    The participants were asked to estimate their average spatial proximity to the other participants, whether they were close friends, and to indicate how satisfied they were at work.

    Some intriguing findings emerged. For example, the researchers could predict with around 95 per cent accuracy who was friends with whom by looking at how much time participants spent with each other during key periods, such as Saturday nights.

    Researchers have highlighted problems with location privacy and cellphones before. In December, the European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA) published a new paper (pdf), “Security Issues in the Context of Authentication Using Mobile Devices (Mobile eID).” ENISA said, “the pervasive use of mobile devices also brings new security and privacy risks. Persons who make extensive use of mobile devices continuously leave traces of their identities and transactions, sometimes even by just carrying the devices around in their pockets.”

    And the technology isn’t new. GPS, triangulating and tracking technology is how Google Maps can show you “where you are” on your iPhone and give directions to your destination. Also, last year, shopping centers in the UK used mobile phone info to track what stores people visited and how long they stayed. “The surveillance mechanism works by monitoring the signals produced by mobile handsets and then locating the phone by triangulation – measuring the phone’s distance from three receivers.”

    You can read more about how marketers are seeking to use GPS technology in a Washington Post article from last year. In May, the Christian Science Monitor wrote about location privacy.

    British Psychology post found via Schneier on Security.

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