Scientists demonstrate ability to accurately predict movements based on mobile phone data

Scientists demonstrate ability to accurately predict movements based on mobile phone databy Madison Ruppert

Mobile devices are quickly becoming one of the most powerful tools for surveillance evidenced by the breakthroughs in ultra-precise location tracking technology, enabling citizen spying through so-called “soft control” techniques and even microchips capable of seeing through walls.

Considering these technologies together with the astounding amount of requests for subscriber information responded to by U.S. mobile phone companies and built-in technologies like Carrier IQ, a quite troubling picture begins to emerge.

It just gets worse when one considers the new research conducted by a team at the University of Birmingham which demonstrated the ability to predict future movements of users with an unbelievable margin of error of a mere 60 feet, according to the British Daily Mail.

While some say that this would be used for highly personalized marketing – like the creepy patent awarded to Google not too long ago – others rightly point to the massive invasion of privacy this represents.

Based on location data already collected by mobile phones, the researchers were able to create an algorithm to forecast the future movements of users with mind-bending accuracy.

The researchers worked in data from an individual as well as their social network, thus predicting future movements based on the amount of times places have been visited in the past and the frequency of contact between the individuals being studied.

“For example, if two individuals who have close contact visit a particular restaurant, it is highly likely that this is where they will be the next time they are both heading towards the area where the restaurant is,” the Daily Mail reports.

The study’s lead researcher, Dr. Mirco Musolesi, stated, “Information extracted from the usage of a mobile phone is an intriguing source of data about people behavior.”

Intriguing indeed, but also quite troubling if you would rather not think about the fact that someone could accurately forecast where you’ll go tomorrow night.

“We have shown that the accuracy of the prediction of an individual’s future locations could be improved if his or her previous movement and the mobility information of his or her social group are taken into account,” Dr. Musolesi added.

The researchers studied 200 individuals living in and around Lausanne, Switzerland and found that this algorithm might not be representative of the general population as a whole, but instead might be more accurate in cities where the movements of individuals are usually synchronized.

Obviously the benefits of this technology for marketing purposes and as the Daily Mail rightly points out, law enforcement, are significant.

However, the potential negative impact on our already dwindling privacy is even more significant with privacy watchdog Big Brother Watch already speaking out against it.

“This development highlights huge privacy concerns,” Emma Carr, the deputy director of Big Brother Watch, said to the Sunday Times.

Even more concerning is the fact that Musolesi has stated that he is planning to release the algorithm as an Application Programming Interface (API) which would then open the technology up to exploitation by anyone and everyone.

While the Daily Mail attempts to highlight the ability of the technology to be used “to target individuals with personalized advertisements using information about where the person has been and where he or she might be going” and by “third-party apps offering discounts and other offers where the app would be able to provide real-time deals available at venues and areas where a person is predicted to beat a specific time and day,” the true intention of the technology was revealed by the researchers.

The Daily Mail article closes out with a quite telling sentence stating that the researchers hope that the algorithm can be leveraged by police in an attempt to predict the future location of criminal activity.

This, of course, is yet another shift in the direction of Minority Report-esque pre-crime technology which has seen a significant rise recently.

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