Phone Data Used to Map Human Activity

Study, outside US, finds ingrained habits, raises privacy issues
By Nick McMaster,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 4, 2008 3:41 PM CDT
A Power Law graph representing the amount of movement a population undertakes in their daily lives. Most move very little, a few (left) move a tremendous amount.   (Wikimedia commons)
camera-icon View 4 more images

(Newser) – Researchers using mobile-phone data to study patterns of human movement find that we're quite creatures of habit, the BBC reports. The 100,000 randomly selected subjects—outside the US, where such tracking would be illegal, the AP notes—remained mostly in the same small area, traveling less than 6½ miles daily, with few going more than 50 miles on a regular basis.

Most surprising to the researchers is the fact that human movement overall adheres to a mathematical relationship known as a power law. That, combined with the regularity found in most people’s movements, opens up new possibilities for mathematical population modeling, which in turn could be used in preventing the spread of infectious diseases, such as avian flu. (Read more cell phones stories.)