The BBC are carrying this story about an interesting study which has just been published in Nature. In this study they tracked the movements of 100 000 people as they used their mobile phones. The anonymous cohort (who are not aware of their participation in the study) were randomly selected from a European nation of 6 million people.
The whereabouts of more than 100,000 mobile phone users have been tracked in an attempt to build a comprehensive picture of human movements.
The study concludes that humans are creatures of habit, mostly visiting the same few spots time and time again. Most people also move less than 10km on a regular basis.
Ok so that is very interesting, but what about the ethics of tracking people without their permission? Apparently the possibilities are endless.
“It would be wonderful if every [mobile] carrier could give universities access to their data because it’s so rich,” said Dr Marta Gonzalez of Northeastern University, Boston, US, and one of the authors of the paper.
Dr William Webb, head of research and development at the UK telecoms regulator, Ofcom, agreed that mobile phone data was still underexploited.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” he told BBC News.
Did you notice that they want the data from the mobile phone carriers companies and not the mobile users? Don’t worry the benefits and commercial possibilities will be passed onto users.
Commercial products also exist, allowing parents to track children or for friends to receive alerts when they are in a similar location.
These types of services and projects will continue to grow, Dr Webb believes, as researchers and businesses find new ways to use the mobile phone networks.
“There are so many sensors that you could conceivably attach to a phone that you could do all kinds of monitoring activities with,” he said.
We mustn’t worry about being monitored through our mobile phone usage after all we are already giving away all our details on facebook and through our blogs. Just combine Facebook with your mobile and not only can your location be tracked to within three kilometres, but information about your mood, status and friends is also readily available. Welcome to the future.