Mobile Phones as Mass Tracking Tools

Last week I was posting about Cityware, a research project about tracking Bluetooth devices in a city, and thus observing movement patterns and trends within a city. The reseach team behind the project provided a piece of software through Facebook back in July 2007, which allowed the wider public to run the software on their computers, that utilised the Bluetooth capabilities of their computer to record Bluetooth activity.

The same idea seems to have spread further than the Bluetooth domain, to more location-providing technologies and mediums. There’s already a couple of companies that have to started to use GPS data and data from mobile opperators aggregatively. From the article:

Sense Networks [use] GPS data from taxi cabs and cell phones to detect road and foot traffic, as well as predict tourism and retail patterns. Similarly, Inrix uses traffic data to predict traffic patterns, and Path Intelligence in the UK monitors traffic flow in shopping centers by tracking cellphones.

Other companies I’m sure are already planning to follow and I expect to see a lot more on this sector soon. The privacy concerns, which are obviously there will slowly die down, making this a much more realistic and viable business.

The companies can use this sort of data for all sorts of different analysis, from which a great number of patterns can be identified, mainly for masses and crowds. This covers living patterns and maybe in the future even the possibility to use something like this to find out where and how we’ll be spending our evenings. Indeed, one of the biggest uses of this technology is traffic detection and monitoring, so as to provide drivers with the best routes, according to this article:

Just before midnight tonight, researchers from UC Berkeley and Nokia will release free software that can be downloaded to Global Positioning System-enabled phones that run on GSM networks such as AT&T and T-Mobile.

The software will transform the phones into devices that are used to monitor and measure traffic – and show real-time traffic data. The system is similar to the Bay Area’s 511 system, which relies in large part on FasTrak toll tags.

But because it uses cell phones, it could dramatically improve the accuracy of driving time projections, and allow driving time estimates on less-traveled roads, including surface streets and rural highways, the researchers say.

It seems the trend on using location data anonymously to track masses is growing.. And as long as there are strict restrictions and rules about privacy, and allowing people to opt-in, I’m ok with it.

Giorgos started in 2008. Since then, he's been developing technology solutions for Mobile Marketing and Mobile Messaging, so he's closely keeping track of everything happening in the space, sharing the interesting stuff he comes across.
  1. I wonder how can you be sure that all this data is anonymous and they don’t invade your privacy. Using a software like this they can track your movement and maybe they can learn your mobile number or some other personal info. Is that right?

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