Automatic Surveillance Via Cell Phone

Your cell phone company knows where you are all the time. (Well, it knows where your phone is whenever it’s on.) Turns out there’s a lot of information to be mined in that data.

Eagle’s Realty 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….

He and his team were able to create detailed views of life at the Media Lab, by observing how late people stayed at the lab, when they called one another and how much sleep students got.

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.

This is worrisome from a number of angles: government surveillance, corporate surveillance for marketing purposes, criminal surveillance. I am not mollified by this comment:

People should not be too concerned about the data trails left by their phone, according to Chris Hoofnagle, associate director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

“The location data and billing records is protected by statute, and carriers are under a duty of confidentiality to protect it,” Hoofnagle said.

We’re building an infrastructure of surveillance as a side effect of the convenience of carrying our cell phones everywhere.

Posted on July 28, 2005 at 4:09 PM

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.