Technology Review, By Tom Simonite, May 27, 2010
A snapshot of our activities, cell phone data attracts both academics and industry researchers.
Cell phone companies are finding that they're sitting on a gold mine--in the form of the call records of their subscribers.
Researchers in academia, and increasingly within the mobile industry, are working with large databases showing where and when calls and texts are made and received to reveal commuting habits, how far people travel for public events, and even significant social trends.
With potential applications ranging from city planning to marketing, such studies could also provide a new source of revenue for the cell phone companies. "Because cell phones have become so ubiquitous, mining the data they generate can really revolutionize the study of human behavior," says Ramón Cáceres, a lead researcher at AT&T's research labs in Florham Park, NJ.
If you were an AT&T subscriber and were near Los Angeles or New York between March 15 and May 15 last year, there's a 5 percent chance that your data was crunched by Cáceres and his colleagues in a study of the travel habits of the company's subscribers. The researchers amassed millions of call records from hundreds of thousands of users in 891 zip codes, covering every New York borough, 10 New Jersey counties, as well as Los Angeles, Orange, and Ventura counties in California.