Your cell phone and your movements

Last Saturday, the New York Times ran an article describing the data Malte Spitz, a German politician, a member of the Green party, allowed to be made public. The data were six months of cell phone usage -- calls, texts, emails, and email check-ins -- collected by the cell phone provider. Spitz turned the data over to Zeit Online, which analyzed it, combined it with publicly available information such as his Twitter feed, and put it into an interactive map, available here. It's fascinating. For every day over the six months that the phone was on (and it was on a lot) you can tell where he went, and how many calls and SMS (texts) he made and received. Click on January 10, 2010, for instance, and you can watch as the phone starts out in Berlin, and then goes along the train route to Dusseldorf, tower after tower lighting up as Spitz's train progresses through the countryside.

It's a creative use of information combined with mapping technology, but it also makes me stop and think. This is just one person's information, and there are tens of millions of cell phone users in this country. And Spitz's use alone generated more than 35,800 lines of data in a spreadsheet. That's a lot of number crunching. So it's not likely that, say, my cell phone travels will turn up on the NY Times or any other web site. But my phone service provider has the information, and is no doubt aggregating it in some way. I would, too, if I were them. We know that we need to worry about protecting ourselves on Facebook. But there are other data mines about each of us available too.

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