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Cell Phone Data Predicts Movement Patterns 93

Posted by samzenpus
from the where-you-going? dept.
azoblue writes "In a study published in Science, researchers examined customer location data culled from cellular service providers. By looking at how customers moved around, the authors of the study found that it may be possible to predict human movement patterns and location up to 93 percent of the time."
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Cell Phone Data Predicts Movement Patterns

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 25, 2010 @02:28AM (#31269126)

    Hopefully they find a way to program those (!@#) traffic lights a little better with this!

  • Sleep and Work? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dayze!Confused (717774) <slashdot,org&ohyonghao,com> on Thursday February 25, 2010 @02:30AM (#31269148) Homepage Journal

    Seeing how 66.67% of the time I am either sleeping at home or at work it shouldn't be too hard to fill the other 27% with commute/grocery shopping.

    • by Cryacin (657549) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @02:42AM (#31269228)
      I'd never trust a statistic I didn't make up myself.
    • by Jeff321 (695543) *

      I think 93% of the time I'm at home or work.

    • by kerrbear (163235) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @03:42AM (#31269502)

      If they track my wife's phone, they'll notice she spends 93% of the time in her desk drawer. Why the heck do I pay for her phone when she never has it on her!?

      • by mlush (620447)

        If they track my wife's phone, they'll notice she spends 93% of the time in her desk drawer. Why the heck do I pay for her phone when she never has it on her!?

        Switch her to a pay as you go contract?

      • by Idbar (1034346)
        In more devastating news, they will find that predictability increases with your "nerd" status. Most likely they will find I'm in front of a computer... at my parent's basement... 90% of the time (sort of like being in a desk drawer, but with the fun of the Internet)

        Like I need some research study to remind me of my sedentary life.
      • I was that way, except in reverse. I begrudgingly took on a pay as you go cell phone and it did OK for about a year. However it very quickly got to the point where it was a bigger pain in the butt to keep putting minutes on so I wouldn't lose the minutes I had plus the cost itself and I owned the phone itself. I switched to a plan when they put out a $10/month plan. In the end it was a 3 year contract, I got a nice new phone and it ended up about $3/month then pay as you go. Easily worth the $3 for the lack
    • by Jedi Alec (258881)

      Any tips for the rest of us on how you get away with sleeping at work? I'd love to get 8 more hours a day to spend for myself...

      And 66%...you work 7*8?

      • by Nadaka (224565)

        As a software developer? Yes I do work 7*8, though sometimes I pull a slow week and do 5*10.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Seeing how 66.67% of the time I am either sleeping at home or at work it shouldn't be too hard to fill the other 27% with commute/grocery shopping.

      You're not too far off. I worked at the research wing of a phone company, and I can tell you that "tracking" a person using a cell tower is pretty coarse, even in urban areas. Given that most people go to work on weekdays, I'd say that a lot of your "movement" could be predicted on this level by just predicting your average movement. Add in a weekday/weekend variation, and 93% is hardly surprising.

      This isn't even one of those "well duh, in RETROSPECT everything is obvious" studies -- anyone who has ever

    • by vxice (1690200)
      This just in, people lead regular boring lives that are easy to predict with little concern for being tracked since most of us are not spies being constantly hunted. More at 11.
  • this is why we don't want them knowing were we are... unless we want them to know were we are by say making an emergency call...
  • Wow! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Beelzebud (1361137) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @02:36AM (#31269186)
    Imagine that. If you study someone's daily routine you can "predict" where they will go. Call me shocked.
    • Exactly. By definition, a pattern is 100% predictable by looking at its history. Why is this news? Hell no I'm not going to RTFA.
      • Exactly. By definition, a pattern is 100% predictable by looking at its history. Why is this news? Hell no I'm not going to RTFA.

        Looking at the fact that most of the posts sofar can be summarized by the statement "Isn't this obvious". I predict that most people (x > 50%) will also not RTFA.

    • My friend, it goes far, FAR beyond daily routine. For instance, from cell phone data, you can tell when a person's plane just landed, because evidently there's a law that says once you land you must immediately call someone on your cell phone and announce that you just landed and then repeat that several times. You know, in case they were picking you up and refused to read the screens indicating when your plane was going to land and wouldn't stand at the gate until you actually walked out.

      But I digress.

    • by pipingguy (566974) *
      Yeah, I thought that was amusing also.
    • by Idbar (1034346)

      Imagine that. If you study someone's daily routine you can "predict" where they will go. Call me shocked.

      Hey Shocked!
      Oh.. research... Spending so much time predicting where people is going, when you can just check on-line [slashdot.org]

      What worries me the most is knowing that they DO keep track of the people. I don't care if they are able to predict where I'm going, I may change that. But they studying my patterns seems scary.

  • Really a surprise? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Xgamer4 (970709)
    Is this really a surprise to anyone? I'd wager the day for the vast majority of people goes something like "wake up, work/school, home, sleep", with the removal of work on Saturdays and Sundays and the possible addition of church or something on Sundays. It's not really that hard to predict something that consistent.
  • by Kitkoan (1719118) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @02:37AM (#31269200)

    While not to the exactness of this study, this has been done before in May 2009 ( http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/science/jan-june09/celldata_05-15.html [pbs.org] ). From the article:

    analyzed six months of anonymous cell phone records from more than 100,000 people in a European country, obtained from a European cell phone provider. Those cell phone records gave an approximation of each person's location at the time of each call, because cell phone calls are routed through the nearest cell tower. He and his colleagues found that people tend not to stray far -- almost three quarters of the people stayed mainly within about a 20-mile circle for the entire six months, and nearly half the people rarely strayed outside a six-mile circle. They also tended to go back and forth regularly between only a few locations, such as home and work.

    And another attempt on the same idea was done by MIT in July 2005 ( http://yro.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=05/07/25/1751234 [slashdot.org] ). Difference here was that the percentage was 85%. Not the 93% declared now. From the Wired article:

    Eagle's Reality Mining project logged 350,000 hours of data over nine months about the location, proximity, activity and communication of volunteers, and was quickly able to guess whether two people were friends or just co-workers.... 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.

    • by trentblase (717954) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @02:44AM (#31269238)
      More importantly, people tend to CALL from predictable places. As others have pointed out, most people spend the majority of their time at home and work. But on top of that, these studies only look at where calls are made, not where people actually are. So while I may spend a lot of time out and about on the weekends, I still make the majority of phone calls when I'm at home (not at the movie, shopping, gym, etc..)
      • by Kitkoan (1719118) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @02:50AM (#31269276)

        More importantly, people tend to CALL from predictable places. As others have pointed out, most people spend the majority of their time at home and work. But on top of that, these studies only look at where calls are made, not where people actually are. So while I may spend a lot of time out and about on the weekends, I still make the majority of phone calls when I'm at home (not at the movie, shopping, gym, etc..)

        The MIT test didn't work based on calls, it used a program that would run every 5 minutes to locate itself based on cell tower information (a low grade GPS). While the test also used calling information, it wasn't for the purpose of figuring out where someone on average would be. Calling information was used to predict whether someone would going out with friends, ect...

        • by radtea (464814)

          The MIT test didn't work based on calls, it used a program that would run every 5 minutes to locate itself based on cell tower information (a low grade GPS).

          I live near the Canada-US border with nothing but water between me and them. My phone regularly picks up cell towers on the far side. So anyone tracking my location via cell tower will find that I magically teleport tens of kilometers and to another country on a regular basis, especially in the middle of the night.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Bootle (816136)

        That's nice.

        The study picked 50k people who each average 2 or more calls per hour for a six month period and make at least one call for every hour of the week. That's a lot of calls.

        If anything, the main criticism should be that people who make that many calls are not a representative population...

      • by Anonymous Coward

        More importantly, people tend to CALL from predictable places. As others have pointed out, most people spend the majority of their time at home and work. But on top of that, these studies only look at where calls are made, not where people actually are. So while I may spend a lot of time out and about on the weekends, I still make the majority of phone calls when I'm at home (not at the movie, shopping, gym, etc..)

        Just you wait till google Buzz gets some momentum. It can track where you're blogging / uploading pictures from, and won't be as statistically insignificant as some flimsy 100k participant study. It is scary. I discarded Buzz after a few hours for the sake of avoiding any chance that others would try and push me to add them to their networks or whatever. We give up enough information as it is, and knowing exactly where to find me, when to find me there and what I use the phone for is a little too much like

    • almost three quarters of the people stayed mainly within about a 20-mile circle for the entire six months, and nearly half the people rarely strayed outside a six-mile circle.

      Reading that I had this eerie recollection of radio tagging studies on animals, and how they seem to follow patterns similar to this.

    • I would guess the difference in that stat is the difference between European and American Culture. In North America its easy to predict when people will be at work and sleeping, or about 66% of their day. In Europe, in my experience, you can also include three hours every night out at the local pub, or 80%.
  • Uh huh... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by spiffmastercow (1001386) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @02:49AM (#31269270)
    So you're saying that analyzing movement patterns allows you to predict movement patterns. Would you like to guess the color of my red car?
    • Would you like to guess the color of my red car?

      Is it... iced... tea?

    • by uolamer (957159)
      Would you like to guess the color of my red car?
      My algorithm says

      94.1% red
      2.6% white
      1.7% blue
      1.2% black
      0.4% Nader
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by dgatwood (11270)

      Well, 85% of the time, it will be red. The rest of the time, it's sort of a rust color as we pull it out of the river because you were talking on the cell phone and missed the "bridge out" sign.

      Am I close?

      • by roman_mir (125474)

        the rust could have covered the dirt. I once saw a gray car that on a closer inspection appeared to be a yellow submarine.

        • by rvw (755107)

          the rust could have covered the dirt. I once saw a gray car that on a closer inspection appeared to be a yellow submarine.

          Was it this car [buamai.com]?

    • by KlaymenDK (713149)

      "If I can guess the real color of your car, can I have my dog back?"

  • Am I the only one concerned at random researchers keeping track of where I am, where I went and where I'll probably go? I'm not ok with some people *I know* knowing my schedule, let alone random people.

    I see no valid reasoning for this study to intrude in privacy like this, since from the get-go it didn't aspire to answer any meaningful question: proving that you're able to ascertain someone's schedule from their phone calls seems like a very sordid thing to prove.

    • I pretty sure that cellphone companies carry records not just of the calls you make, but also of where you were at the time (closest cellphone tower) when you made the call, as well as where you are while your phone is on (so they know which tower to send a signal to, if someone calls).

      I don't see a reason that would force them to erase those records. These researchers are just getting data that is available (in far greater detail) to those working for that company.

      My cellphone provider even has a $5 servic

    • by polar red (215081)

      Carrying a device that shouts(electromechanically) very loud your position, would destroy any notion of you caring for privacy I could guess. On the other hand : would those researchers REALLY care about your activities ?

  • 'Never' falls within 'up to 93% of the time' n'est ce-pas?
  • Sounds like a High School science project from a lame student; how are these results relevant or interesting at all?

  • by mykos (1627575) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @03:47AM (#31269538)
    BRB...this girl I used to date will be at Subway in five minutes. Time to casually bump into her.
    • by Ramley (1168049)
      "BRB...this girl I tried to date will be at Subway in five minutes. Time to casually bump into her."

      ...there, fixed that for you.
  • It seems like you haven't used the WC for any extended period in two days.
    Your local grocery store now has wholebran cereal on sale.
    Just mention this ad and we will knock an extra 2 dollars of the already low price.
    Coupon code: knst1patd

  • upper bound (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dario_moreno (263767) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @04:06AM (#31269612) Homepage Journal
    This seems to be the upper bound of predictability by computers ; in other domains of artificial intelligence, such as automatic translation or speech recognition, automated statistical analysis from corpuses seems to perform better than manual encoding of rules, but ends up at maybe 90% efficiency. The rest is too random to be predicted, and it could be the part of poetry, art or intelligence in our lives.
  • More and more we see stories like this, if you can connect the dots. this is a NASA coverup for Planet X, pure and simple. Fireballs almost every day or at least reported on every week, fallin' out of the sky. it'll be happening more and more, then NASA will fall silent. They do not tell the truth of what's out there, if you don't believe this: your programmed. Crow.
  • This is a really old arstechnica article. Wasn't this article from last week?

    Arstechnica is a great site, although they do tend to get carried away with their stories. I really read arstechnica when I'm in a boring class and need to pass time because their articles are so ridiculously long.

  • it may be possible to predict human movement patterns and location up to 93 percent of the time.

    The remaining 7% are deviant, they're probably onto some terrorist task of some sort and should be Guantanamoed.

  • What about the user who carries the phone from home to work and back, and never carries it anywhere else? Can they predict that movement? How about those of us who don't use a cellphone to begin with? I'm a web designer and a landline serves my needs just fine, thankyou. Track me, I wish you luck ;) Sheesh what a useless study,
    • by Sky-217 (44374)

      How about those of us who don't use a cellphone to begin with? I'm a web designer and a landline serves my needs just fine, thankyou. Track me, I wish you luck ;)

      The funny thing is that it probably isn't much harder to figure out your movement patterns, based on your call patterns even from a land line. In a relatively short amount of time, someone could probably figure out your work schedule. And if you don't need a cell phone, you probably spend more than the average amount of time at home and work anyway.

      You probably spend close to the 93% of your time at home or at work and you probably take a route to work that is similar to what any mapping program would su

  • "predict human movement patterns and location up to 93 percent of the time."

    I am either at work or at home, thank you very much for the study Dr. Obvious.
  • All this Cell phone data should be in the public domain. There should be no privacy. Then my theft ring can predict when all your family are going to be out of the house. Cross reference this with your Twitters and annual vacation travel and we can really clean you out. Or perhaps the police just need to see if you have tags on all your pets. Or a quick look at your TVs to make sure you are paying that California Plasma tax. After they see what they need, then they can get the warrant for a REAL search.
  • I learned this four years ago on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.

    Those T.A.R.U. guys [wikia.com] are some smart coppers.

    Benson and Stabler know where every perv in New York is located.
    • Benson and Stabler know where every perv in New York is located.

      that's easy, every perv is in New York!

      (just kidding ;)

  • I'm at work or at home at least %93 percent of the time.
  • People are creatures of habit thus predictable most of the time.

    So where is my cut of the grant money?

  • You’re lucky when you get it down to 500 m.

    Then again, when you’re a A-GPS server provider... ;)

  • I don't mean old as in "last week", this came up months ago, if not even pre 2009!

    Not with cell phones, but some study was claiming to predict human location based on a study of your previous location, to a high degree of accuracy.

    Now if I could just find the original link... I'm sure it was on slashdot...

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