The Really Smart Phone

The Wall Street Journal adds a great piece to the mix of articles that have been written recently on behavioral tracking.  This article focuses on data being collected from mobile phones.  A few excerpts:

As a tool for field research, the cellphone is unique. Unlike a conventional land-line telephone, a mobile phone usually is used by only one person, and it stays with that person everywhere, throughout the day. Phone companies routinely track a handset’s location (in part to connect it to the nearest cellphone tower) along with the timing and duration of phone calls and the user’s billing address….

Advances in statistics, psychology and the science of social networks are giving researchers the tools to find patterns of human dynamics too subtle to detect by other means. At Northeastern University in Boston, network physicists discovered just how predictable people could be by studying the travel routines of 100,000 European mobile-phone users…  After analyzing more than 16 million records of call date, time and position, the researchers determined that, taken together, people’s movements appeared to follow a mathematical pattern. The scientists said that, with enough information about past movements, they could forecast someone’s future whereabouts with 93.6% accuracy… The pattern held true whether people stayed close to home or traveled widely, and wasn’t affected by the phone user’s age or gender….

“We can quantify human movement on a scale that wasn’t possible before,” said Nathan Eagle, a research fellow at the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico who works with 220 mobile-phone companies in 80 countries. “I don’t think anyone has a handle on all the ramifications.” His largest single research data set encompasses 500 million people in Latin America, Africa and Europe.  Among other things, Mr. Eagle has used the data to determine how slums can be a catalyst for a city’s economic vitality. In short, slums provide more opportunities for entrepreneurial activity than previously thought. Slums “are economic springboards,” he said…

Dr. Bollen and his colleagues, for example, found that the millions of Twitter messages sent via mobile phones and computers every day captured swings in national mood that presaged changes in the Dow Jones index up to six days in advance with 87.6% accuracy. The researchers analyzed the emotional content of words used in 9.7 million of the terse 140-character text messages posted by 2.7 million tweeters between March and December 2008. As Twitter goes, so goes the stock market, the scientists found.

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