Your cell phone is spying on you, allowing people to access information as to where you work, how you got there, how long you’ve been stuck in traffic and which red lights you manage to avoid. A team of researchers at AT&T Labs in Florham Park is working hard to turn information that has been collected from the firm’s cellular network into a treasure trove of data for the likes of policymakers, traffic engineers and urban planners.
“The fact that we are all carrying these sensors on our bodies now in the form of cell phones… I think we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what that might mean,” Philip Abramson, who works as a project manager at Manhattan-based urban planning specialist company Jonathan Rose Cos, says. “If we can get this data on a large scale, it’s better than anything else that we have, and it’s cheaper to produce.”
AT&T is far from the only firm that has been mining data from people’s new and old cell phones, with the likes of Verizon and Google trying to make money from customers’ location data and tracking the owners of smart-phones in order to spot traffic snarls for their maps respectively.
The technological innovation has also raised concerns about privacy however, as Lee Tien, a senior staff attorney with the non-profit organization Electronic Frontier Foundation, notes. “Big data is the mantra right now,” he says. “Everyone has these stories about how it might benefit us,” adding that the appetite for such data is such that companies are now taking the information from their customers without permission.