For Sale: Your Daily Movements

Wireless companies are offering their customers' location data to companies that plan to use it for purposes ranging from city planning to market research.

What's the Latest Development?

A growing number of wireless companies are looking to make money off the massive amounts of information it has about its customers' daily traffic patterns, and new companies are springing up to pay for that data. For example, Atlanta-based AirSage is working with major carriers to collect cellular tower data in real time that can be used to help transportation and traffic planners, among others. One of their customers, Streetlight Data, combines that data with GPS information to identify those who pass by a particular retail area as part of a daily commute, as opposed to those who are just visiting from further away. Streetlight founder Laura Schewel says that her company could help improve city planning in the future by bringing businesses physically closer to potential customers.

What's the Big Idea?

Until recently, information collected about individuals' daily movements was only accessible by the wireless carriers themselves. Now that they're making that data available for purchase, it can be used in a wide variety of applications. Notably, both the carriers and the data-seeking companies are careful about protecting the privacy of millions of mobile phone users: "[T]hey wrestle with the challenge of conveying what 'anonymous' and 'aggregated' data means to people who are increasingly aware that they are carrying around a tracker in their pocket."

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Read it at MIT Technology Review

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