The Positive Side of Data Surveillance

It’s not a good time to advocate data mining.

The mere mention of electronic surveillance makes most people’s Spidey Senses tingle. So this quote should send most privacy advocates to DEFCON 1.

Accurate estimates of the number of people in a given location at a given time can be extrapolated from mobile phone data, without requiring users to install further applications on their smartphones.

This is the conclusion of a study by researchers from the Warwick Business School.

The scientists analyzed two months of mobile phone data and Twitter geo-location data from Milan. Remarkably, they found that the size of spikes in data use allowed them to estimate the number of attendees at a soccer game in the San Siro stadium.

Certainly there are law enforcement applications, such as measuring protests.

Another opportunity is the ability to infer the number of people in a specific area to facilitate emergency evacuations during a disaster. This is a positive opportunity for this research because it doesn’t require users to install further applications on their smartphones to check in during an emergency, such as Facebook’s Safety Check application.