Thursday, June 5, 2008

Cell Phones and Privacy: Is Location Data A Risk?'s recent coverage of the work done by a team from Northeastern University raises some interesting questions.

By monitoring the signals from 100,000 mobile-phone users sending and receiving calls and text messages, a team from Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, has worked out some apparently universal laws of human motion.
This becomes a bit more scary in context - readers may remember the AOL search data scandal from 2006. As cell data is made available for research, probably without the knowledge of individuals, and without the opportunity to opt out, the same techniques that the New York Times used to hunt down searchers might be used to track down individual cell users. Would cell users turn their cells off if they knew they would be tracked and used for research when they go places they might not want others to know about?

What would you think if you were one of those whose data was used?
Barabási and his colleagues teamed up with a mobile-phone company (unidentified to protect customers' privacy), who provided them with anonymized data on which transmitter towers had handled the calls and texts for 100,000 individuals over the course of 6 months.
Does this protect the users? Or does it protect the company?

Update: CNN's article does a good job of discussing the researcher's take on privacy issues, as well as the ethical and privacy concerns third parties have raised.

1 comment:

Cesifoti said...

Here is AP taking back the story that caused this controversy.

And a statement from Northeastern University