The Null Device
A researcher at the veritable MIT Media Lab is mining volunteers' mobile phone location and call data
, and using it to determine all sorts of things, from simple things such as how long people work and how much they procrastinate to which people are friends and which ones are merely coworkers. Not only that, but the data can predict people's behaviour:
Given enough data, Eagle's algorithms were able to predict what people -- especially professors and Media Lab employees -- would do next and be right up to 85 percent of the time.
Eagle used Bluetooth-enabled Nokia 6600 smartphones running custom programs that logged cell-tower information to record the phones' locations. Every five minutes, the phones also scanned the immediate vicinity for other participating phones. Using data gleaned from cell-phone towers and calling information, the system is able to predict, for example, whether someone will go out for the evening based on the volume of calls they made to friends.
Eagle was also able to see that the Red Sox's improbable breaking of the World Series curse shook even the world of MIT engineers. "I actually saw deviation patterns when the Red Sox won," Eagle said. "Everyone went deviant."
The information was recorded by special custom programs running on the phone; the same information is gathered by the mobile network operators, though is not available to the general public. However, it is available to law-enforcement agencies, and is probably being used right now for assembling automated dossiers on entire populations.
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