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Cell Phone Tracking Reveals Users' Habits

timothy posted more than 6 years ago | from the there-and-back-again-must-be-the-shire dept.

Communications 180

DinkyDogg writes "'New research that makes creative use of sensitive location-tracking data from 100,000 cellphones in Europe suggests that most people can be found in one of just a few locations at any time, and that they do not generally go far from home.' More interesting than their conclusion, however, is how they got their data. 'The researchers said they used the potentially controversial data only after any information that could identify individuals had been scrambled. Even so, they wrote, people's wanderings are so subject to routine that by using the patterns of movement that emerged from the research, "we can obtain the likelihood of finding a user in any location." The researchers were able to obtain the data from a European provider of cellphone service that was obligated to collect the information. By agreement with the company, the researchers did not disclose the country where the provider operates.' Any guesses which European country requires cell phone providers to record where their customers make calls, and then allows them to give that data away without disclosing that they have done so?"

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Is that really so surprising? (5, Insightful)

jawtheshark (198669) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699027)

My typical day is: wake up, shower, go to work, be at work 8h (I don't go out for lunch), go back home, cook, eat, relax, sleep. That adds up to 2 places where I'll be, and anywhere on the highway to work. Add in grocery shopping in one of the two nearby supermarkets and you pretty much know where I'll be on any given day Monday to Friday.

On weekends it might be a bit more complex because I go to the recycling centre, eventually visit my parents or my wifes parents, go to a restaurant, the movies, but even then.... What is it going to add up to? A dozen places?

This only proves that we're routine-animals. That's all....

Re:Is that really so surprising? (5, Funny)

bloodninja (1291306) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699053)

My typical day is: wake up, shower, go to work, be at work 8h (I don't go out for lunch), go back home, cook, eat, relax, sleep. That adds up to 2 places where I'll be, and anywhere on the highway to work. Add in grocery shopping in one of the two nearby supermarkets and you pretty much know where I'll be on any given day Monday to Friday.

This is why I walk my dog a different route each day. I don't even know what route we will take until we are back. It adds a little bit of surprise and a little bit of uncertainty into an otherwise very uniform and repetitive existence.

Re:Is that really so surprising? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23699145)

Ouija dog. Patent it. Now.

Re:Is that really so surprising? (0)

value_added (719364) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699199)

This is why I walk my dog a different route each day. I don't even know what route we will take until we are back. It adds a little bit of surprise and a little bit of uncertainty into an otherwise very uniform and repetitive existence.

LOL. You do know that dogs are creatures of habit? I have a little walk in my backyard made of staggered stepping stones. Really hard to walk on, but it's there so I have someplace to stand when I'm watering the lawn by hand and can get back to the house without getting my feet too wet when I'm done. The funny thing is most all of the year, I never use the walk, but when I'm outside playing fetch with the dog, he catches the ball and uses the walk to come back. Every ... single ... time.

If you're taking different routes on a daily basis, my guess is you have a happy, but neurotic dog.

Not that any of this has much to do with article. My dog's never been to Europe, doesn't have a cellphone, or even a Slashdot account, but if he did, I'm sure he'd have something interesting to say.

Re:Is that really so surprising? (2, Interesting)

bloodninja (1291306) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699243)

LOL. You do know that dogs are creatures of habit?
Of course I know that, but I've never taken it into consideration. The random wanderings do not seem to bother her. That may be because our family likes to hike in unfamiliar places, so the random walks may make her feel that we will somehow get to woodland or something. I don't know.

Tomorrow I will make sure to let her lead, and we will see how that goes. Maybe she does have a particular path that she feels is 'right' and I just don't know it.

Re:Is that really so surprising? (4, Insightful)

Z00L00K (682162) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699283)

My guess is that even dogs like to come out finding new tracks and sniffing new scents. I would hardly define that to cause a neurotic dog. Being utterly bored is on the other hand a cause for neurotic dogs and also humans.

But when you are in your home ground you can quickly start habits and tracks that you are comfortable with.

A more interesting application of the cell phone tracking is actually that it can give planners a better understanding of the travel patterns for people. This in turn can be turned into effective public transportation, better road planning etc.

From a historical point of view it is understandable that humans do have very fixed patterns. If you know the terrain then you know where the threats may be and where to find food & other good things in life. This is why we feel awkward as soon as our favorite store remodels and currently all aisles are changed or placed in new directions.

Of course - if we were to live in an ever-changing world we would adapt to that too.

Re:Is that really so surprising? (1)

bloodninja (1291306) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699531)

This is why we feel awkward as soon as our favorite store remodels and currently all aisles are changed or placed in new directions.
Or when the better half suddenly dyes her hair.

Re:Is that really so surprising? (3, Funny)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699587)

Dogs like routines. Don't you know you are causing great mental anguish to your pet?

You are a cruel pet owner.

Re:Is that really so surprising? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23699117)

I vary my route to and from work just a little each day...to keep the terrorists guessing. It's the only way to be sure.

Re:Is that really so surprising? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23699289)

My typical day is: wake up, shower, go to work, be at work 8h (I don't go out for lunch), go back home, cook, eat, relax, sleep.

Uhhhh....you said, you have wife

Re:Is that really so surprising? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23699335)

What is surprising is that these scientists can now write a wave function for your position. Theoretically, if you use a wave function for the people in some town, you can determine the probability (via a transmission coefficient) that they will build a tunnel somewhere!

Re:Is that really so surprising? (4, Funny)

harry666t (1062422) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699421)

Interesting. On the contrary, I never know where I'm going to wake up after a party. Once I woke up in a hotel in another city.

Re:Is that really so surprising? (4, Funny)

mh1997 (1065630) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699521)

This only proves that we're routine-animals.
And for the most part, you probably visit the same websites on any day.

Well, there goes the myth of the EU saner than U.S (3, Interesting)

plasmacutter (901737) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699049)

The researchers were able to obtain the data from a European provider of cellphone service that was obligated to collect the information.


well.. im not going to feel vindicated or anything, the implications are that orwell is rolling over in his grave fast enough to generate free energy for the entire planet if you were to assemble a turbine around him.

so now they know what youre saying, or browsing on the web, and are able to watch you marked on a map as you move from one place to another.

so, when are you voting out the people who did this? at least most western nations outside the US have more choices than tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum

Re:Well, there goes the myth of the EU saner than (0, Troll)

Hal_Porter (817932) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699095)

so, when are you voting out the people who did this? at least most western nations outside the US have more choices than tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum
Hey tweedle-dee is about change. People that support tweedle-dum are worse than Nazis.

Man, I wish I hadn't used up my mod points earlier (1)

arotenbe (1203922) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699297)

Think of it this way. In 2000, the Democrats lost some of their votes to Mr. Third Party (also known as tweedle-doo). And guess who got elected as a result of that?

Re:Man, I wish I hadn't used up my mod points earl (4, Funny)

MiniMike (234881) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699833)

And guess who got elected as a result of that?

Tweedle-dumb?

Re:Well, there goes the myth of the EU saner than (1)

iminplaya (723125) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699129)

...at least most western nations outside the US have more choices than tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum

Americans have lots of choices. But they like tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum

Re:Well, there goes the myth of the EU saner than (1)

plasmacutter (901737) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699239)

don't be so condescending to me and more than 300 million of my fellow citizens.

american media is more concentrated now than it has been for over 3/4 of a century and more subservient to the government than ever.

how do you expect a critical mass to form in support of replacing one or both political parties currently in power when the media in bed with them doesn't properly cover it.

Re:Well, there goes the myth of the EU saner than (1)

iminplaya (723125) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699275)

how do you expect a critical mass to form in support of replacing one or both political parties currently in power when the media in bed with them doesn't properly cover it.

Heh, by looking beyond the mass media, silly. Too many people just aren't uncomfortable enough to give a damn. Your fellow citizens are who's keeping them in power, nobody else. Not the media, not the corporations, just you and yours. If you won't go past what's being spoon fed by mass media, then look in the mirror. It's just too easy now.

Can you vote a telco out? :P (3, Insightful)

Moraelin (679338) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699655)

so, when are you voting out the people who did this?


Umm, I wasn't aware that you can "vote out" a telco. (Or we would have voted out the dimwits from the Deutsche Telekom a long time ago.) Much less that you can vote out some researcher which doesn't even live there.

There were some data retention and privacy laws that were definitely broken. Which I strongly suspect is why they put an explicit condition to not be named. And from there it's up to the police and courts to apply those laws. I don't think you can vote on _that_. And it's probably better so, because justice isn't and shouldn't be a popularity contest.

The voting in and out has to do with the fact that we got those laws in the first place. You know, instead of weasel arguments about how the 4th amendment doesn't apply (A) to the government (then to who the heck _does_ the US constitution apply?), or (B) if it wasn't literally your papers or house being searched, or (C) by conveniently defining that if it happened over some company's lines, it's in public and noone really needs a warrant to observe that, or (D) if it allows a company to earn a few more bucks, or a few other variations.

And _if_ any politician wanted to make this thing legal, or give them a free pass, _then_ we'll vote him out. But I really doubt that they will. At worst we'll see some impotent posturing, and claims that it's impossible to determine who and whether a law has actually been broken or the researcher in case has just invented the data. (Which I strongly suspect he'll claim, once the ball starts rolling.)

But seriously, I doubt that any major politician, at least in Germany, will want to be seen as officially on the side of letting any company sell your data to the highest bidder. Although the country did slide a bit to the right lately, it's by far not at the point where anyone wants to be seen as arguing that the corporations should have unchecked power over their customers. It would be a _very_ unpopular point of view, and their political opponents would use it to the max to their own advantage. Sometimes even members of their own coalition.

(Here elections usually don't get "won" by any party, but about some uneasy coalition of several parties, to total more than 51% between all of them. With the implication that if you make yourself extremely unpopular, you might not even need to wait for the next elections to be voted out: a coalition can reform the other way around over night, moving you from head of the winning coalition to the largest opposition party. It's not a usual occurrence, but it can happen.)

But anyway, we'll wait and see. So far it's hardly some orwellian government plot, it's just one company which broke the law. It happens in the USA too, without always meaning that it reflects some government stance. See, for example: Enron [wikipedia.org] .

From here, it can go in a lot of possible directions, not just "it's the way the government wants it". If it goes the wrong way, we'll vote some politicians out. If not, not. It's really that simple.

Re:Well, there goes the myth of the EU saner than (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23699707)

Wrong. Just tweedle-dum and tweedle-stupid.

Data has not been anonymized (3, Informative)

hweimer (709734) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699061)

Contrary to what the paper suggests, the data has not been anonymized. Proper anonymization means that you cannot derive correlations between the behavior of the individuals, which was the whole point of the paper.

I don't know the exact legal situation in every European country. However, in EU countries this is regulated by the Directive on the protection of personal data [wikipedia.org] , which requires for scientific use that safeguards have to be taken to prevent the identification of individuals. For some countries like Germany this means that the data has to be anonymized, although it is a grey area whether pseudonymization is sufficient.

More details on that matter can be found on my blog [quantenblog.net] .

Re:Data has not been anonymized (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23699173)

What is personal information? This problem is going to be the downfall of the whole data privacy concept. Is your IP address personal information? Is your IP address combined with a date and time personal information? Combined with search terms and a URL history? Is a read-only logistics serial number in an RFID tag personal information? Is the set of serial numbers in your shoes, your watch, your mp3 player, your cell phone and your coat personal information? Combined with location, date and time where and when they were all registered together? Or does it take a combination with your name and address? Is it sufficient to leave off the last 5 digits of the serial numbers? Most information only becomes a problem when it's combined with other information, but if the individual sets are not subject to privacy laws, then the combining can be done where data protection laws don't exist. Consequently one could hope to achieve an acceptable privacy level only by forbidding almost all data collection. At that point we have to be realistic: People don't value their privacy enough to justify cutting down information collection that much.

I Disagree (3, Informative)

FurtiveGlancer (1274746) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699209)

"Anonymized" may be defined as data that cannot be traced to a named individual. Individuals may still be tracked by other means (arbitrarily assigned number, vice real phone number) to determine patterns without violating individual privacy. So long as they don't specify home addresses, cell numbers or other personally identifiable data, this is valid anonymity.

Of course, this is different from claiming that the data would be used for statistical puroposes only. This study used the data for sample correlations beyond bulk statistical analysis.

Re:I Disagree (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23699271)

cell phone location data does specify home address, work address, addresses of your family, etc. by its very nature - it's hardly anonymous

Re:I Disagree (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699377)

So long as they don't specify home addresses, cell numbers or other personally identifiable data, this is valid anonymity.
What part of "cell phone patterns with actual towers are personally identifiable data" do you not understand? Armed with something as simple as the phone directory (home address) and my CV (hometown from history+recent work places as a consultant) I'm pretty sure you can conclude that user 3254632 is me, and that also means you have my location information for all the other private places I go. That's not anywhere near anonymous.

I Still Disagree (1)

FurtiveGlancer (1274746) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699629)

No one has released your CV into the wild other than you or someone violating privacy laws. You have the option in most countries of maintaining an unlisted number and address. You can elect to be removed from most on-line directories as well. You also have the more extreme option of doing without a cell phone.

To my knowledge, no one has released specific arbitrary numbers and the locations associated with them. Most importantly, each cell tower serves an area hundreds of yards to perhaps a mile or more in radius, so the knowledge of which cell tower was used does not provide an address, but a rather large circle. It is possible to triangulate a cell phone's position between multiple towers, but TFA made no mention of trangulation.

Cell phone companies must track the tower to which your cell is closest, else you would never receive a call.

Avoid unjustified FUD.

Re:I Still Disagree (1)

FurtiveGlancer (1274746) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699639)

I meant *triangulation* not strangulation. ~

Re:I Disagree (1)

jonaskoelker (922170) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699815)

Individuals may still be tracked by other means (arbitrarily assigned number, vice real phone number) to determine patterns without violating individual privacy.
Okay, so consider your "average" home: four cellphones, which are all in the home. Two of them go to the local school five days a week. Two of them go to the football field every sunday.

Work out who's mom, dad, son and daughter. You've tracked them to their home, so you know their address. Go look at the mailbox. Now you have their names.

How's this anonymous again?

Re:Data has not been anonymized (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699303)

"Proper anonymization means that you cannot derive correlations between the behavior of the individuals"

Census data is disseminated using the same techniques so I hardly think it's a good reason to question the results (as opposed to the ethics). Perhaps you were thinking about double-blind experiments?

Re:Data has not been anonymized (1)

nguy (1207026) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699345)

Contrary to what the paper suggests, the data has not been anonymized. Proper anonymization means that you cannot derive correlations between the behavior of the individuals

Right objective, wrong terminology. You are looking for terms like "privacy preservation" and "personal data protection", not "anonymization". Anonymization does not protect privacy, which is a well-known problem.

for scientific use (1)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699593)

*snip* which requires for scientific use that safeguards have to be taken to prevent the identification of individuals. *snip*
But it doesn't store it that way, and when the government comes calling ( the real concern here ) they don't have to 'clean' the data.

There's data, then there's data (4, Insightful)

HangingChad (677530) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699775)

Contrary to what the paper suggests, the data has not been anonymized.

You're exactly right. Give me access to cell phone location data and I'll be able to identify the individuals. If they know people don't wander far from home, then they know where home is. And where work is. It'll take all of ten minutes to add a name to a pattern of behavior. The concern becomes a group that lacks collective conscience...like the Bush administration....starts using anonymous data to look for suspicious patterns of behavior. Justifying the surveillance by suggesting that they're not spying on individuals, merely looking for suspicious patterns. Sound familiar?

Then think about how that could be abused. I was watching a news story about a local anti-terror exercise that involved the feds and local law enforcement. The DHS spokesperson actually said that any criminal activity can be used to support terrorism so anti-terror exercises get muddled together with law enforcement. Every criminal is a potential terrorist. It's happening in the banking industry. The monitoring provisions were put in place to look for terrorist activity, but now banks are reporting any suspicious transactions down to $1,000. Anyone think Elliot Spitzer was a terrorist? The monitoring program that netted him was put in place to monitor for terrorists but once it became obvious Spitzer was not funneling money to Al Qaida, the investigation continued under the mantle of law enforcement. Okay, so law enforcement starts monitoring cell phone GPS data looking for suspicious patterns of behavior, at first looking for terrorists, but since any crime potentially supports terrorism, it starts getting more widespread and granular. Going to a particular street in a particular part of town...like a mosque...could flag you. Sending money to a family member overseas or just being in the vicinity when a crime takes place. Maybe law enforcement starts using cellular GPS data to locate potential witnesses. Want to explain to the boss why the cops showed up and wanted to know if you saw anything while visiting the "entertainment" district last night?

The anonymous element is an intellectual dodge. There's nothing anonymous about your pattern of behavior, it's as unique as a fingerprint. This is real 1984 kind of stuff.

I'm more afraid of widespread monitoring than terrorism. Once you start chipping away at the edges of privacy it's hard to get back. And, right now, we're paying billions of our tax dollars to create an agency that regularly pounds our right to privacy with a sledgehammer.

Germany? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23699069)

Germany?

Germany. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23699115)

Germany.

Re:Germany. (1)

bloodninja (1291306) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699119)

Deutschland

Re:Germany. (1)

dotancohen (1015143) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699135)

Bundesrepublik Deutschland

Re:Germany. (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23699431)

Third Reich?

Re:Germany. (1)

bloodninja (1291306) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699677)

EU?

Re:Germany. (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699615)

Ueber Alles!

Re:Germany! (5, Interesting)

fluch (126140) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699187)

T Mobile? I would not be surprised.

The country is definitely Germany. You can get the publication in question from the authors homepage [nd.edu] Then take figure 1a (as suggested in hweimer's [slashdot.org] blog [quantenblog.net] ) and lay it over some google map, appropriately scaled.

The data is definitely centered around Germany, but tracks reach to Austria, Switzerland, Netherlands, Belgium, Poland and Cech Republic...

Re:Germany! (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23699311)

It is possible that it is Germany this time, but data is being collected in a similar way in Belgium too.

Two points of interest in the Belgian case (the first probably also true for this article):
* You don't have to make a call for them to know your location. Mobile phones are being tracked as long as they're powered on.
* The (anonymized) data are being used for traffic analysis - not just congestion, but also route analysis: how many people reaching Antwerp by a certain highway enter the city, how many visit the harbour, how many just pass by on their way in the direction of Brussels, how many towards Ghent, etc.

Re:Germany! (3, Insightful)

bistromath007 (1253428) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699385)

Color me surprised. I figured the UK was a sucker bet.

Re:Germany! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23699517)

I'm so upset about this. Once this gets to our island of spyware the government will be able to see I spent the whole of sunday watching TV. Oh yeah, and I posted here. And checked my email.

Fuckit - bomb bomb bomb!

Re:Germany! (3, Insightful)

Fanro (130986) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699661)

The data is definitely centered around Germany, but tracks reach to Austria, Switzerland, Netherlands, Belgium, Poland and Cech Republic.
Hmm, the blog you linked only suggests that cou could search for the right location by matching maps, but the author has apparently not yet found it.

What makes you say that the data is centered on Germany? Have you found the actual place that matches the cell phone tower locations? could you tell the coordinates?

where ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23699091)

Maybe it was in London, Tel Aviv and Antwerp, Belgium, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/11/business/11ftraffic.html

New Physics (4, Funny)

brunokummel (664267) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699093)

...that most people can be found in one of just a few locations at any time,

Forget those losers, I wanna know about the people that can be in 2 or more locations at the time!

Re:New Physics (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23699131)

Forget those losers, I wanna know about the people that can be in 2 or more locations at the time!

More troublesome may be that I'm nowhere to be found.

Re:New Physics (1)

Begemot (38841) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699161)

Obviously you weren't following the 4th season of Lost. Jeremy Bentham [wikipedia.org] is one of them.

Re:New Physics (1)

auric_dude (610172) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699253)

But can it track SchrÃdinger's Cat?

Re:New Physics (1)

zmollusc (763634) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699533)

Tracking Schroedinger's cat should be easy as it is always in its box.

Re:New Physics (2, Interesting)

Keruo (771880) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699305)

> I wanna know about the people that can be in 2 or more locations at the time!

It's called MultiSIM. Same phone number can be used on multiple phones.

Though I'm not sure how GSM network would react if I cloned IMEI address of two phones to identical and used multisim with them.

Re:New Physics (1)

Sique (173459) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699671)

Only if someone tries to reach you the phone which last registered with a GSM tower, wins. Might get interesting if both phones are moving around and are constantly re-registering :)

legal? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23699107)

Whatever country this was, I wonder how this data could have been transferred to the US without breaking European law. And I wonder whether CIA and NSA already obtained a copy of it.

Not surprising with 4/gal gas (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23699109)

Driving around is becoming obsolete.

Re:Not surprising with 4/gal gas (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23699527)

Count yourself lucky to be living in the US, where gas is still cheap.

I filled my tank yesterday, stopped the pump at exactly 100 eur ($157 at the current exchange rate).
Unleaded 95 octane is 1.58 eur per liter here, that's $9.41/gallon.

And you are complaining?

Re:Not surprising with 4/gal gas (1)

conureman (748753) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699799)

Many brave young soldiers gave their lives to drive up the price of gas. Show some respect.

Odd conclusion (4, Interesting)

thedrx (1139811) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699111)

Any guesses which European country requires cell phone providers to record where their customers make calls, and then allows them to give that data away without disclosing that they have done so?

This is not necessarily the type of data they collected.

Here in Europe, in some countries, cell phone companies offer a service that can reveal a phone's location (with the precision of a fraction of a kilometer/mile) at any given time from any place actually. It's useful for tracking your phone when it gets stolen, or spying on your spouses.

However, the owner of the phone must consent to this service. Any tracking (except maybe for aid in criminal investigations?) without the owner's consent would be very illegal. And I suspect what happened here, is the company collected data of such consenting owners.

Whether they consented to having their data used in research, well, that's another matter.

Re:Odd conclusion (3, Informative)

Richard W.M. Jones (591125) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699175)

Here in Europe, in some countries, cell phone companies offer a service that can reveal a phone's location (with the precision of a fraction of a kilometer/mile) at any given time from any place actually ... Any tracking (except maybe for aid in criminal investigations?) without the owner's consent would be very illegal.

Very definitely this is used in criminal investigations. In the case of the Soham murders [wikipedia.org] back in 2002, one of the victims had a phone which the murderer had turned off. In a public appeal the police said they'd sent a message to the phone, trying to trick the murderer into turning the phone on (which would reveal its location).

In fact this trick didn't work, but mobile phone location data was still crucial. Police plotted all the walking routes [mobilemonday.net] around where the phone was last located just before it was switched off, and from this found the suspect (later, murderer's) house and also disproved his alibi [bbc.co.uk] .

Rich.

Re:Odd conclusion (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23699231)

I think you misunderstood. YOU can track "your" phones in Europe. You don't need a court order or a badge. It is usually quite sufficient to send one SMS from the phone that you want to track to permanently enable the "service" for that phone. Afterwards you can use any other phone to request a location update whenever you want. You see, our solution to the energy crisis is to harvest the rotational energy of George Orwell in his grave.

Re:Odd conclusion (1)

teh kurisu (701097) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699425)

Here in Europe, in some countries, cell phone companies offer a service that can reveal a phone's location (with the precision of a fraction of a kilometer/mile) at any given time from any place actually.

Down to a fraction of a kilometre sounds a bit optimistic. Such services track a person's location using the location of the cell tower they're currently connected to, they do not use triangulation so the radius can be quite wide. In some rural areas the radius could be up to 8km.

However, the owner of the phone must consent to this service.

And I'll just add that if a company phone is being tracked, the employee using the phone must be informed of this.

Re:Odd conclusion (1)

wooferhound (546132) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699685)

Anybody can track any cellphone location using this link . . .
http://www.themobiletracker.com/english/index.html

Pretty sure it must be the Netherlands (4, Informative)

Idaho (12907) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699125)

If you think the USA is bad with regards to telephone taps and the like, try the Netherlands.

Last year, in the Netherlands 25,000 phones where tapped (for different periods of time). These are published numbers (I could link to them but the articles are in dutch only so, well..)

In the USA, the official numbers are somewhere around 2200 phone taps (in 2007).

But that's not all; keep in mind that the USA has over 300 million inhabitants. The Netherlands has only 16 million.

So either the USA government is doing a much better job of keeping even the fact that phones are tapped at all hidden from public scrutiny, or it really is much, much worse here (in this regard, at least).

Re:Pretty sure it must be the Netherlands (4, Funny)

value_added (719364) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699237)

So either the USA government is doing a much better job of keeping even the fact that phones are tapped at all hidden from public scrutiny, or it really is much, much worse here (in this regard, at least).

Much worse only begins to describe it. The Netherlands have more than 10x the number of terrorists we do.

Re:Pretty sure it must be the Netherlands (1)

Sique (173459) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699699)

That just because the U.S. keeps their terrorists offshore, so they don't taint the statistics.

Re:Pretty sure it must be the Netherlands (3, Insightful)

piemcfly (1232770) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699273)

The big difference is that those 25000 taps in the Netherlands are all approved by a (sort-of) independent body ('rechter-commisaris', not sure of the english term for that, but it's an oversight judge). Those numbers are all out in the open. In the USA, the whole FISA thing is in shambles.

Of course that doesn't mean there are no illegal / secretive taps, it's common knowledge that there are (for example, by using new wiretap techniques that are not mentioned in the law police are able to circumvent the oversight process), but at least the numbers you mentioned are legal, institutionally approved taps. Some may say the whole process is in effect rubber stamping every application, but it seems to me it's (at least a bit) more than that.

Re:Pretty sure it must be the Netherlands (3, Interesting)

Z00L00K (682162) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699309)

I read it as official numbers are the number of taps by "normal" police, i.e. local and FBI, probably mostly FBI.

And then we have NSA, CIA, DHS... Do you believe they will provide any kind of statistics? It's all about deniability.

And of course - there is a rule of evidence in the US, this means that illegally acquired evidence can't be used. So that in turn means that "anonymous tip" can be an acronym for wiretapping, which in turn can lead to other means of surveillance and evidence gathering. To add to this it's possible to do a setup to obtain plausible deniability. Why do you think that the US have so many different agencies that overlaps?

Re:Pretty sure it must be the Netherlands (1)

iwein (561027) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699455)

(I could link to them but the articles are in dutch only so, well..)
There are others that speak this obscure dying language occasionally, like me. A link never hurt anyone (you must be lazy).

Potential hint to the country... (2, Informative)

thedrx (1139811) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699139)

A potential hint as to the featured country might be the name of the author of the project:

âoeSlices of our behavior are preserved in these electronic data sets,â said Albert-LÃszlà BarabÃsi, an author of the project and the director of the Center for Complex Network Research at Northeastern University in Boston. âoeThis is creating huge opportunities for science.â

As if the obvious Hungarian name wasn't enough, his wikipedia entry [wikipedia.org] states he's lived in Hungary and Transylvania. Of course, this might be (and probably is) purely coincidental.

In any case, I, for one, welcome our new PhD vampiric overlords.

My Guess? ...Britain (3, Insightful)

polyp2000 (444682) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699147)

It wouldnt surprise me if it was Britain. Every day i learn something new that makes me despise living here. After all we are generally regarded as being the most spied on nation in the world.

The other day i realised that my entire journey from home to work i am exposed to at least 15 cameras along the entire journey. We have cameras on streets, platforms ,buses and trains. When I worked in canary wharf it was more like double that as i needed to use the Tubes which are also littered with CCTV. Some of them actually talk (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/6524495.stm)

While I appreciate its "there to protect us" Im afraid i dont trust the people who's job its to monitor them.

So that's why i wouldnt be at all surprised if it was the UK tracking moves - after all they are tracking everything else.
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RAF_Menwith_Hill)

Re:My Guess? ...Britain (2, Insightful)

I confirm I'm not a (720413) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699249)

I pretty much agree with everything you say - but RAF Menwith Hill is a bad link; only security is provided by the MoD - the actual site and all the sooper-seekrit spy stuff is run by the US Air Force...

Mind you, my understanding of Echelon is that it's a great way to bypass annoying local laws; Canada spies on US citizens and passes the intel to the US, Australia spies on Kiwis for the NZ government, Menwith Hill spies on British citizens - all nice and clean and local intelligence agencies don't get their hands dirty spying on their own citizens.

Re:My Guess? ...Britain (2, Insightful)

Z00L00K (682162) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699331)

Do you think that anybody seriously monitor those cameras?

I think that they are there more for us to think we are monitored all the time and then occasionally we may happen to end up on YouTube [youtube.com] .

Re:My Guess? ...Britain (1)

giafly (926567) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699585)

Do you think that anybody seriously monitor those cameras?
In the UK they don't. My bank card got cloned in an ATM within view of six cameras and nobody has been arrested. I think criminals simply wear hoodies or baseball caps and hide their faces. Also a neighbor's husband had a job watching these things and he gave up alerting the police to street crime because they never bothered to respond quickly enough.

Some countries use it to track traffic jams (2, Informative)

Idaho (12907) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699151)

Actually some countries use (allegedly) anonymized cell phone data to track traffic jams. This seems to work quite well. At least there have been several experiments and the idea seems promising.

I would consider this a completely legitimate use of the data. However I highly doubt that it is properly anonymized, but that's a different matter.

This could explain why such data was gathered in the first place. If you can still track particular users, it is not anonymized at all however.

Re:Some countries use it to track traffic jams (3, Interesting)

jabuzz (182671) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699195)

The data is *VERY* useful in retrospect for tracking down criminals and terrorists after the event, and providing evidence to secure convictions. Within a couple of days of the failed 21/7 bombings in London for example telephone records had enabled them to track one of the suspects to Rome where he was promptly arrested and deported back to Britain. The whole lot where tracked down within a week.

As for anonmyization, you may be able to track individual users, but if you have scrambled the locations so they are no longer meaningful (ie. they do not represent any real coordinate system) I guess it would be pretty difficult to unpick it. That is the x,y location information is arbitrary coordinates and not the lat/long or whatever local grid is in use.

Re:Some countries use it to track traffic jams (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699443)

You could still match the information to a map, basically the first thing I thought after wondering if they could make it truly 'anonymous'. Someone above even said that the routes in this study match Germany, with some routes even leading into other countries!

nice (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23699159)

i like this articles...can i put it in my site?

http://the-digital-asset-management.blogspot.com [blogspot.com]

I hope they're not tracking me... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23699201)

because I don't want a bunch of scientists to analyze what a lazy sod I am just for leaving my cell phone at home and turned on for days at a time.

Isn't this article a bit delayed? (1)

abhishekupadhya (1228010) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699203)

The article says June 5th. Slashdot used to be much faster than this. I happened to read this three days back. [ Granted, I should have submitted it then.]

Re:Isn't this article a bit delayed? (4, Funny)

I confirm I'm not a (720413) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699259)

I happened to read this three days back....Granted, I should have submitted it then.

If you had submitted it back then we'd be reading it again now as a dupe. You were doing us a favour!

Re:Isn't this article a bit delayed? (1)

abhishekupadhya (1228010) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699549)

Ah. I should have clarified. I didn't read it on slashdot, of course [ I thought that'd be obvious. But I should have realized that there are trolls around] So here's where I read this article. Three days earlier. http://www.nature.com/news/2008/080604/full/news.2008.874.html?s=news_rss [nature.com] The online edition of the well-known scientific journal. And this was on June 4th. @ somersault : How did you guess?...

Re:Isn't this article a bit delayed? (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699447)

Slashdot used to be much faster than this
You must be new here (having travelled in from an alternate reality)!

Team Mobile (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23699225)

I am shocked and appalled that team Mobile would consent to use their customers' data in this manner! Shame on you Team Mobile!

The upshot of this... (3, Interesting)

MikeRT (947531) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699241)

Is that it gives the government even less excuse to use no-knock raids for crimes that could easily be handled by regular police work. Take the case of Ryan Frederick [codemonkeyramblings.com] , for example. The police created a situation where they ended up losing an officer after they attacked the house of a suspected drug dealer (who shows all signs so far of being completely innocent). Had the police gotten his cell phone information and mapped his daily routine, they could have discretely caught him by surprise in a public place, taken him in for questioning, and the only one going to jail would have been the police informant who lied his ass off and victimized both sides. This cell phone tracking actually gives civil libertarians an argument as to why these raids cannot possibly be justified in most cases because the police can figure out where the person is going, and ambush them when they have the advantage (something they don't have when assaulting a home).

Tin-foil hat time! (3, Interesting)

Capitalist Piggy (1298699) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699263)

Any guesses which European country requires cell phone providers to record where their customers make calls, and then allows them to give that data away without disclosing that they have done so?"


It's funny to watch headlines attempt to troll out tin-foil hat crowd. This data seems much more useful for the development of cities than it would for evil advertisers or jack-boot government thugs who can find you through any number of measures and come get you whenever they feel like it.

Personally, I don't care much about folks knowing my routine. Wow, I go to work, come home, go shopping, go for a walk, and head off to the same few places every weekend. If data for a better mass-transit system or better roads was to result, that'd be great.

Re:Tin-foil hat time! (1)

SpcCowboy (1303133) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699669)

Personally, I don't care much about folks knowing my routine. Wow, I go to work, come home, go shopping, go for a walk, and head off to the same few places every weekend. If data for a better mass-transit system or better roads was to result, that'd be great.
Sure you don't care, until the people who gain access to the information aren't just advertisers and police, but rather thieves out to make a buck at your expense.

Oh noes... (1)

MindPrison (864299) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699329)

...I've left my cellphone at home, now they'll think that I never leave my house and don't get out much!

Wonder what they'll think if I attach my phone to FIDO?

Reminds Me Of My D&D-playing Days (1)

LordAlced (1279598) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699353)

One of the things that my Dungeon Masters kept on "teaching" my "brilliant" doppelganger psychic warrior/slayer is never to take the same route from point A to point B. This lesson is not lost on evil paranoid characters (who always expect an ambush), particularly the drow and the assassin NPCs.

Good characters tend to view the world with rose-colored glasses and this is why they die alone in a horribly catastrophic way while going out to town for a drink of ale.

Dammit, I miss those days.

Not really. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23699357)

This research just found out, that a cellphone can be found in one of few locations, not that its owner can be found there.
Exempli gratia I don't take my phone with me, when I go out to prepare my daily terror attacs.

or... (1)

owlnation (858981) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699401)

most people's cell phones can be found in one of just a few locations at any time, and that they do not generally go far from home
There, fixed it. Of course, the really interesting journeys far from home are made by leaving the phone behind.

Anonymnous #45 spends every nite at 45 Lexington (2, Interesting)

viking80 (697716) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699409)

Here is some of the anonymous data:
Anonymous 1: Arrives at 10 downing st. every evening at 21:00, and goes to work at 08:00
Anonymous 2: Arrives at Buckingham every nite at 23:00, but sneaks out at 01:00 and goes to the big oak tree in Hyde park. ....
Anynomous 31415: Sneaks out from 45 Lexington in Soho, and goes the the big oak tree in Hyde park. .... ....

The UK (1)

z_gringo (452163) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699451)

Any guesses which European country requires cell phone providers to record where their customers make calls, and then allows them to give that data away without disclosing that they have done so?"

That would be the UK.

What habits? (1)

iwein (561027) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699479)

Cell Phone Tracking Reveals Users' Habits
Drinking habits? It's a bit charged that title don't you think? The study just proved that they would be capable of predicting your location if they wanted to. How about 'Cell phone tracking could predict users location.'

But I guess if you need to set the stage for righteous anger about privacy you need something stronger than that.

Could be here in Finland (1)

Skal Tura (595728) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699613)

I am not sure are they allowed to save the data, but sure as hell they do use cell phone based locationing A LOT around here.

It's old news of services like locating your friends by visiting a website, getting closest restaurants, pubs, kiosks, supermarkets etc. to your phone as SMS from your service provider etc.

As well as police have the right to track all cell phones, and even lock out any cell phone permanently if stolen. (Some even claim that finnish cell phones have a destructive method to do that, frying the circuitry literally)

If you steal a cell phone around here, you are either insanely stupid, or VERY clever and know howto bypass all that, however, the cell phone locking might not be avoidable with all phones.

Also, it is rumoured that police here has so sophisticated hardware that they can pinpoint if a driver is speaking to a cell while driving and cut the connection.

Anyways, not sure can they store the data where you are, or even actively keep looking, but wouldn't really surprise me.

Is your cell phone location a business record? (2, Interesting)

dstates (629350) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699633)

Note that all US mobile carriers are required to track or have the ability to track phone location to comply with the 911 laws.

Key issue in the US is whether cell phone location falls under "common carrier" or "business record" legal status. If it is covered by "common carrier", then like the contents of your conversation, you have an expectation of privacy, police need a warrant to obtain the information and the cell phone company can not sell or use the information for other purposes.

If phone location is regarded as a "business record" you don't have any of those protections. Many of the fancy personalized advertising models depend on the phone companies ability to "publish" your location. Billions of dollars in potential profit are at stake here so do not make assumptions, but the potential for abuse is enormous.

What?! (1)

ZarathustraDK (1291688) | more than 6 years ago | (#23699703)

So what they say is that it is possible to track my position if I carry a cellphone. Somewhere Captain Obvious is having a field day.

What country (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23699713)

This "reasearch" was apparently done in Finland.

The Eye of Mordor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23699745)

Well, let's just hope Frodo and Samwise make it before the Eye of Mordor... oh. Habits. Never mind.
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