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I Spy… 10M Stuck Commuters…

June 6, 2011

Really, we ARE awake here.  Real life occasionally intervenes.  Just wait until I go on sabbatical in a couple months.

Anyway, here’s an interesting article from The Register about uses for cell phone location.

Mobile operators always know where their customers are, with a variable degree of accuracy dependent on the cell density. Most attention is on tracking individuals, but there’s real value in knowing where the unnamed masses spend their time and it is that data which Docomo is hoping to exploit.

In the case of an earthquake, Docomo hopes it will be able to see where transit routes have been damaged and, based on historical tracking, be able to estimate the numbers of people unable to get home. For urban planning the idea is to be able to track how the distribution of people is changing over time, enabling city planners to address needs before they become problems.

There’s a comment in the article about the phone companies being unwilling to utilize the data for privacy reasons.  Um, sure.  But privacy only goes as far as people wanting to be private.  Offer to track them so they can get home faster, and you’ll have people paying the extra $5 a month for a service.

The bigger problem that most of the companies have is likely massaging the actual data.  It’s fair to say that you can ID how many people are in a cell from one moment to the other, but you also have to know how many are moving in which direction, and how many of them are out of place as compared to normal, etc.  The data you have only is as relevant as your ability to process it.

So with that, any effort to actually manipulate the data could be very beneficial.  But I think the power you have to put into it means that the cost recovery has to involve some service that can be sold to recoup the initial spend.  It’ll be interesting to see how that’s marketed, and accepted, over time.

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