Harnessing your digital breadcrumbs

This story in the Wall Street Journal discusses the wide-ranging research implications of collecting millions of data points from cell phone users. Most people carry smartphones. In addition to holding your contacts, your emails, and text messages, even the cheapest of todays smartphones are equipped with advanced sensor technology like accelerometers, GPS, magnetometers, etc.  It knows where you are even before your friends do.

Researchers are collecting this digital detritus/information and:

After analyzing more than 16 million records of call date, time and position, the researchers determined that, taken together, people’s movements appeared to follow a mathematical pattern. The scientists said that, with enough information about past movements, they could forecast someone’s future whereabouts with 93.6% accuracy.

Here is one way the collected data can aid in your everyday decision-making:

We can measure their daily exposure to political opinions,” said project scientist Anmol Madan at MIT’s Media Lab. “Maybe one day, you would be able to download a phone app to measure how much Republican or Democratic exposure you are getting and, depending on what side you’re on, give you a warning.

While everyone profiled in the article had altruistic goals (e.g., studying the spread of disease), it never hurts to be too careful about how much information you broadcast.  That said, here are some tips to protect your privacy.

(photo from flickr user umpcportal)

(Thanks Julian!)