MIT Technology Review has an interesting article about cellphone user data and how it’s used by telecommunications companies and researchers.
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.
With potential applications ranging from city planning to marketing, such studies could also provide a new source of revenue for the cell phone companies. “Because cell phones have become so ubiquitous, mining the data they generate can really revolutionize the study of human behavior,” says Ramón Cáceres, a lead researcher at AT&T’s research labs in Florham Park, NJ. […]
Since almost everyone has a cell phone, the scale of the data is immense compared to other sources. Mobility patterns might, for example, be used to adjust property or billboard advertising prices. “Just about every operator on the planet is probably thinking about this right now,” says [Jean Bolot, a researcher at network operator Sprint]. […]
Research in this area is typically focused on aggregate information and not individuals, but questions remain about how to protect user privacy, [Vincent Blondel, a professor of applied mathematics at Université Catholique de Louvain,] 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.