What's the Latest Development?

Web services and apps, like Foursquare, allow you to check-in with your mobile phone to inform your friends where you are right now. But where will you be tomorrow or next week? A new algorithm developed by British researchers uses a phone’s tracking data to predict where a person will be in 24 hours. Previous algorithms have depended on people following a daily routine. What makes this algorithm so unique and also so accurate—the average error is just 20 meters—is that it combines the tracking data of one specific person with the tracking data of their friends.

What’s the Big Idea?

While there are many potential uses for this data, from crime prevention to targeted Google ads, primary concerns about privacy stem from practical use of the algorithm. “The problem is that this algorithm isn’t about aggregating a bunch of anonymous data and then picking out trends. It’s about tracking specific individuals and their friends.” It appears that the most practical use, rather than for some sort of Orwellian police tracking system, is for opt-in services like Groupon to offer you deals from nearby restaurants and stores.

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