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Communications Cellphones The Almighty Buck

Telcos Waking Up To the Value of Your Location 178

Posted by kdawson
from the cdrs-from-your-cars dept.
holy_calamity writes "Cell phone networks represent probably the most effective data collectors of all time: almost everyone's movements and communications are logged in some way by these firms thanks to the ubiquity of cell phones. Now they're beginning to wake up to the value of that data, as researchers mine call records to study travel and social patterns at previously unimaginable scales. Not surprisingly, some are thinking about how to monetize that data, too."
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Telcos Waking Up To the Value of Your Location

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    This is just more of the slope we are going down. I'm sure that soon, telcos will realize they have a nice stream of info they can mine/monetize by attaching voice recognition software to people chatting, and then sell that data, either "aggregate", or person by person and identifiable.

    Europe actually has lawmakers who might pass privacy laws. Maybe the EU can start by attaching severe penalties for using location information for anything but critical legal info?

  • Value (Score:5, Funny)

    by anarche (1525323) on Friday May 28, 2010 @08:51AM (#32374760)

    Did someone say cheaper phone calls??

    • "Value Added" (Score:5, Insightful)

      by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Friday May 28, 2010 @08:59AM (#32374854)
      My guess is that the companies will try to charge their customers more for "location based services," and also charging the companies that use location data to actually provide those "services."
      • by siloko (1133863) on Friday May 28, 2010 @09:12AM (#32375000)
        My guess is they sell this data to the corrupt motherfuckers who are running our country so they know exactly where any miscreants are as soon as the do something remotely questionable! Bastards! Wait . . . there's someone at the door . . . I'll be right b
      • by WCguru42 (1268530)

        My guess is that the companies will try to charge their customers more for "location based services," and also charging the companies that use location data to actually provide those "services."

        If it came to it I would pay to not be apart of this service. It doesn't make sense that one would have to and it's a shame that eventually you won't be able to go after telcos for disseminating every last iota of information they have on you.

        • If it came to it I would pay to not be apart of this service. It doesn't make sense that one would have to and it's a shame that eventually you won't be able to go after telcos for disseminating every last iota of information they have on you.

          Pay!? Fuck that! I will drop my carrier if they do not provide a free opt-out. Actually fuck opt-out as well, they had better not give out my location at all without a specific provider-specific opt-in.

          I am sure there are some lawsuits that could come out over this.

          • by Splab (574204)

            Might wanna throw that phone away then.

            TAP 3.11 which are transferred regularly between operators provides location information, cell information, IMEI, IMSI and what you have been up to. It's for creating a thing called a bill, it's very helpful to know exactly where and why one of their users should be charged $xxx, but it's not accurate to a few meters.

    • Re:Value (Score:4, Funny)

      by Akido37 (1473009) on Friday May 28, 2010 @08:59AM (#32374856)

      Did someone say cheaper phone calls??

      Yes, cheaper phone calls are why they're doing this. And with all that extra money you'll save, I have this great bridge in Brooklyn you should really check out.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Em Emalb (452530)

      SMS charges are absolutely ludicrous.

      It amazes me that telcos can get away with charging so much for such a minimally network-intensive service.

      • by robot256 (1635039)
        PagePlusCellular's prepaid plans have $0.08 sms instead of $0.20. It's a start.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by DerekLyons (302214)

        It's called "charging what the traffic will bear", and it's not "getting away" with anything - it's extremely smart pricing.

      • by corbettw (214229)

        I pay $30 per month to AT&T. For that insanely high price, my wife, our two kids, and I can all send unlimited text messages, including MMS messages with attached pics. Each of us sends an average of about 1000 messages per month; that works out to 0.75 per message. Not 75, 0.75. I honestly don't get where the hate on SMS charges comes from.

    • by thijsh (910751)
      No, but your Google results are now half price...
      Seriously though, are they only finding this out now? Including Google who already used this service in the mobile version of Google Maps? I really don't think so...
    • Let me say this as clearly as possible:

      NO.

      now, let me rephrase that question into one with a positive response:

      "Did someone say 'new revenue stream for the telcos'?"

      • Re:Value (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Lumpy (12016) on Friday May 28, 2010 @09:30AM (#32375188) Homepage

        I just wished the iPhone and Android let me have a background easy scripting language like python.

        It's what I missed when I finally had to switch away from the Nokia platform. Being able to write a small script that sent a position update to MY SERVER every 5 minutes.

        It was cool to see the lights come on and the garage door open when I pulled in the driveway and got off the bike. It was typically a 2.5 minute delay from when I pulled in the driveway and when the system detected I was home from the gps reporting to activate everything. Perfect timing as I then had my helmet off, took off the jacket and unstrapped the backpack from the seat.

        Come on Google and Apple, let us do cool stuff with our phones!

        • Re:Value (Score:5, Informative)

          by Steve S (35346) on Friday May 28, 2010 @09:38AM (#32375298)

          Here you go:
          http://code.google.com/p/android-scripting/

          "Scripts can be run interactively in a terminal, in the background, or via Locale. Python, Perl, JRuby, Lua, BeanShell, JavaScript, Tcl, and shell are currently supported"

        • by mrops (927562)

          Nothing stopping you except for maybe learning a new language. With Android, you don't even need a fancy certificate to install your code on the device. SDK comes with a utility to do it.

          Only problem is, you will need to learn Android development, if you have played with java, its quite straight forward. Google's tutorials are great too.

          Personally, I feel more comfortable with Java than with python :)

        • With the Android SDK it's pretty damned simple to do what you want. It's the benefit of an open platform.

        • by voidptr (609)

          iPhone OS 4.0 will have the ability for a user app to receive background events from major location changes.

        • by splatter (39844)

          Or this?

          http://www.saurik.com/id/5 [saurik.com]

          Cydia has a python package for apple. The "Appbackup" application uses it. Something tells me your posting about a non-jailbroke phone cause the previous poster linked for android as well.

          • You don't need to jailbreak an android phone to use the scripting environment linked to by the other posters or run them in the background.

    • Perhaps I'm being naive, but money is fungible, and the wireless carriers aren't a cartel (yet), so ostensibly this is money that could be used by the carriers to compete on price, or at the very least forestall a round of rate increases, right? To use it as raw profit wouldn't be very competitive.
  • Time to get more cell phones to use as decoys?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Jack Dorsey (Twitter Founder) did this with bike couriers, ambulances, and fire trucks. Mologogo (http://www.mologogo.com/) allows you to do this somewhat as part of a social network, Google Latitude allows you to see who's close by. I wouldn't be surprised if we are already being tracked.

    As for ways for telcos to monetize this, I would imagine this data would make a PI's job a lot easier--as well as an unwanted stalker--individuals' locations in aggregate would be useful for real-time traffic data, or even

    • by Gr8Apes (679165) on Friday May 28, 2010 @09:25AM (#32375128)

      I'm pretty sure this will fall afoul of some existing law regarding wiretapping or some such. Unless, of course, the customer opts in, or fails to opt out.

      • Existing laws can easily be changed. Especially if there's lots of money to be made. Besides, they'll tell you all about it somewhere in the 6th page of fine print on your cell phone contract.
    • by Nukenbar (215420)

      As a former ADA, i can tell you the cell site records are already key evidence in many types of crimes. Cell site records may only show what tower a cell phone is hitting, but just being able to show what neighborhood someone was in might be enough to break an alibi defense or show a pattern.

  • by casings (257363) on Friday May 28, 2010 @09:13AM (#32375024)

    If government subsidized telcos want to use my data to make money, I think I will charge them for it. After all what travels on their tubes isn't their data, otherwise they couldn't be labeled common carriers.

    • by ScaredOfTheMan (1063788) on Friday May 28, 2010 @09:25AM (#32375136)
      Tell that to the Credit Reporting Bureaus that use your data to make money. My money says Telco will simply see this as gravy, and not pass along any of the financial benefit to the customer.
      • That's fine. I rarely get useful phonecalls on my mobile anyway, excluding at the weekend. I might just start turning it off, or leaving it at home.

        The only mobile calls I get at work are social. Maybe this isn't such a bad idea.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      I think the phone companies will try to charge you for this. That would be more in keeping with their other behavior.
    • by SnowDog74 (745848)

      Telco's aren't owned by the government, and they aren't the only method of communication available to you. If you want to "Charge" them, though, the easiest way to do so is to not use their networks. Using their networks means the creation of data that isn't otherwise created without signal traversing their equipment... You consent to that being their data by using their services.

      Boycott them.

    • by corbettw (214229)

      "Government subsidized telcos"? Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha! Good one. There hasn't been a government subsidized telco in the US since, well, ever.

      • So how did they get all this "right of way" for their outside plant again?
      • "Government subsidized telcos"? Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha! Good one. There hasn't been a government subsidized telco in the US since, well, ever.

        Have you never heard of the Universal Service Fund [wikipedia.org], the roughly $7-8 billion / year subsidy that taxpayers send to telecom companies to expand service to rural areas?

        Also, AT&T and others have been beneficiaries of the NIST's ATP and TIP R&D subsidies for years.

        • by corbettw (214229)

          Yeah, except that money is tied to providing rural service through the Phone Bank for a specific purpose. You don't get to add additional qualifiers on top of that to get them to do whatever.

    • by spikenerd (642677)

      If government subsidized telcos want to use my data to make money, I think I will charge them for it.

      Could you please enlighten me regarding how to specifically do this? I would like to apply this principle to recover money, rights, and freedoms that have been unfairly taken from me in a number of areas. This would be a perfect solution to end all manner of corruptions ...if you really know how to pull it off. You're not just talking big, are you?

      • by casings (257363)

        You have usage information that they send you every month. If they want to monetize it, it will be easy to track how much time I spent earning them money.

  • I wondered some time ago how pinpointing the location of mobile phone works in practice. I imagine one based on power measurement would be rather sloppy. So is it based on the delay of signal arrival measured at each participating base station? (the main limitation being the precision and synchronisation of clocks in base stations) Something else?

    • Based on how Google Latitude and Maps work when I turn off the GPS info on my phone, I'm not sure if they bother with getting any more granular than whatever cell tower you are running off of. This gives several miles worth of error, but still pretty close, all things considered.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      If you walk around then your mobile logs at least into one mobile cell. If there are three cells around you then you can do triangulation. There's an open source project that can make use of this data from within your mobile: http://opencellid.org/ [opencellid.org]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 28, 2010 @09:29AM (#32375174)

    If you care at all about your privacy, buy prepaid with cash. They don't have any way to tie you to the specific phone that way.

    Otherwise, if you give them all your data, don't be surprised when they use it for all kinds of things you didn't imagine.

    Most people seem to take the philosophy of, "I'll just ask nicely and maybe they won't go all big brother on me". Me, I try to push towards the philosophy of, "Let's not give them this in the first place. Then there's no issue because it *cannot* be a problem".

    Not just for this but other things too. I admit it requires a few sacrifices, but really much less than you might think. Mostly what it requires is *thinking*.

  • by smooth wombat (796938) on Friday May 28, 2010 @09:31AM (#32375208) Homepage Journal

    I guess it's a good thing I don't have a cell phone. No cell phone, no tracking. No tracking, no data mining.

    About the best the marketers know about me is from my grocery shopping card, though what they glean from my buying a 5 lb. tub of Crisco, two 48-count packs of condoms, three baby bottles and the 5 lb. jar of grape jelly every two weeks is up to them.

    • by mackil (668039)
      Crisco, condoms, baby bottles and grape jelly... hmmm.... I think I've seen this movie, you fetishist you.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by darkfire5252 (760516)

      I guess it's a good thing I don't have a cell phone. No cell phone, no tracking. No tracking, no data mining.

      This is possibly the most dangerous attitude for people to have. The 'magic' of data mining is that it relies on probabilities that are learned from populations as a whole. Knowing how millions of people who do have cellphones behave can, and will, give data miners valuable (or dangerous...) insight about how people in general will behave. Don't think for a second that, because you personally do not have a cell phone, you don't stand to lose some privacy with the rest of us.

    • Ok, the 5lb tub of Crisco and the Jelly could mean you like biscuits. 96 condoms in two weeks is a lot of sex with your wife. I mean I have sex twice a day and sometimes orgasm twice a session, but still that would only require 56 condoms every two weeks, unless of course whomever you are sticking it to is a dirty whore so you're double bagging it, in which case you might not have enough. Then there is the three baby bottles. Why would you be buying three of those every two weeks? Aren't they reusable?
    • by nospam007 (722110) *

      Perhaps your boss is interested in the 25 bottles of scotch and Vodka you buy every week.

      Your wife might buy the condom info, with the same money she'll pay the divorce lawyer with, yours!

  • by Dr_Barnowl (709838) on Friday May 28, 2010 @09:37AM (#32375278)

    "So, we noticed that you spent an hour at a known brothel today. The good news is we offer our special customers preferential rates for non-geographic billing!"

  • My theory, telcos wanted to sell this information to the likes of Google, Yahoo and Miscrosoft (and facebook and Pizza Hut etc...).
    They didn't want the negative backslash, so they asked the Government to ask them for their users name, transference of Guilt.
    The Government saw this as a chance to implement the kind of inter-federal surveillance that would make the founding fathers spin in their graves.
    Profit!

    • Assuming you aren't a drug dealer who's gonna use the phone for 24 hours then dump it, they don't need your name. They have the names of some of the people you call, and information about where you go. From that, they can figure out who you are.
      • Wait are you suggesting that the purpose of this is to catch drug dealers that go through cell phones like Doritos? Wanna bet the chances such criminals are going to use phones registered under their real identities?

        And no they can't get information when I call another prepaid phone, that they cannot get the names of every single individual out there drives them crazy.

        • by blair1q (305137)

          Look at the current news and you'll find there's an effort right now to pass a bill requiring ID for prepaid cell phones. A drug dealer may have several fake or stolen IDs, but in short order he's going to have to start recycling them. Someone who buys $4k worth of prepaids every month instead of getting a $500 smartphone and a $150 unlimited plan is leaving a pile of steaming evidence for the first investigator who scores a warrant to check the telco's records based on a tip from a pissed-off crack whore

  • by Drakkenmensch (1255800) on Friday May 28, 2010 @09:39AM (#32375310)
    "This is anautomated message for Mr Smith. Hello Mr Smith, we've noticed that you've been spending your friday mornings at hotel 6 a lot, and while you commit adultery with Ms. Doolan who also spends a lot of time there with you, you may want to consider taking a short detour to Delco Brand Drugstore for some condoms to avoid your wednesday trips to the free VD clinic!"
  • by Fractal Dice (696349) on Friday May 28, 2010 @09:42AM (#32375336) Journal

    They can sell information on everyone you called, use speech recognition to monetize the content of your calls. And since you voluntarily brought a phone into your life, why turn off the microphone just because you aren't making a call? Just continuously record everything in the vicinity - there must be a wealth of data there that someone would pay for.

    If data-mining of everything that touches the service works for facebook, why not telcos?

    • by ChiRaven (800537)
      In the days of the Bell System, and even afterwards, there was such a thing as "customer proprietary network information." Anything the customer owned, did, or said that touched the telephone network was protected by the strictest privacy protections except to the minimum extent required by the explicit order of a court. Anyone who breached this principle lost thier job, period, dot!

      Somewhere along the line this principle apparently got lost, and our society is much the poorer for it.
    • by FreeUser (11483)

      They can sell information on everyone you called, use speech recognition to monetize the content of your calls. And since you voluntarily brought a phone into your life, why turn off the microphone just because you aren't making a call? Just continuously record everything in the vicinity - there must be a wealth of data there that someone would pay for.

      Why stop there? Most phones these days come with at least one camera, many with two. Activate both, and stream the data back to a data collection point. D

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Phillibuster (1232966)

      why turn off the microphone just because you aren't making a call? Just continuously record everything in the vicinity

      They'd never do that, because then they'd have to upgrade their networks... ;)

    • They can sell information on everyone you called, use speech recognition to monetize the content of your calls. And since you voluntarily brought a phone into your life, why turn off the microphone just because you aren't making a call? Just continuously record everything in the vicinity - there must be a wealth of data there that someone would pay for.

      This police state brought to you by AT&T.
      Verizon - we never stop fucking over you!

    • by Valdrax (32670)

      If data-mining of everything that touches the service works for facebook, why not telcos?

      Because telcos are currently leashed by anti-wiretapping calls that protect the contents of your phonecall. Location data on the other hand...

    • by blair1q (305137)

      why turn off the microphone just because you aren't making a call? Just continuously record

      99.9% wasted channel capacity is why not.

      It's still a telecom system, and the systems engineers are still building it for sparse nominal capacity requirements, not for 100% open channels for 100% of users 100% of the time.

  • Beginning? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Chelloveck (14643) on Friday May 28, 2010 @09:52AM (#32375472) Homepage
    Beginning to wake up to the idea? I got out of the cellular biz back in '95, and "location based service" was being talked about then. It's hardly a new idea, and it's one the telcos have been drooling over for more than a decade. Maybe they're finally figuring out ways to make it pay off.
  • I'm almost every day at my cave programming and that stuff. In 2009 I decided to go to the Rally that took place in Cordoba, Argentina (I'm from the neighboring province Santa Fe) and after I went back I started to get spam SMS's that advertised Rally related stuff. I have Telecom Personal and of course, I can confirm they either sell or use (themselves) my location info to at least try to sell me stuff. I can only assume they actually use location data for that and other "darker" purposes.
  • by Gyske (687847)
    TomTom has been using cell phone location data, provided by Vodafone, since 2006 for traffic (congestions and travel times) information. See it at work (for free) here: TomTom HD Traffic [tomtom.com]
  • by erroneus (253617) on Friday May 28, 2010 @10:52AM (#32376240) Homepage

    I am beginning to see value in turning my phone off and leaving it at home... maybe even turning off service.

    Where are our consumer protection agencies when we need them? At every turn, the people we exchange money with are sharing our personal details for further profit. This should be illegal without compensation. If I am used in generating their content, and to be clear I *AM* being used, then I should get a cut of the profit at the very least and most certainly the ability to opt out with complete confirmation and the ability to sue if they violate that status.

    • by blair1q (305137)

      You are no doubt considered "compensated" for this as it falls in the aggregate of give and take negotiated when you shit yourself to get that new multitouch-enabled smartphone on day 0.

      Check your agreement.

  • Something that needs to be said -

    Your cell phone is not truly "off" unless the battery is removed.

    We now return you to your regular nonsense....
  • by apenzott (821513) on Friday May 28, 2010 @11:05AM (#32376386)

    It seems odd that now that the carriers have GPS coordinates of where their subscribers are using their services, that they seem unwilling to use this data (GPS coordinates and dropped calls) to improve their coverage and services where the customer needs it.

    Oh, that entails spending money rather than making money. (Fail.)

    • They don't need GPS data to know that they're fucking me over on coverage. I call them constantly to tell them where it's happening. They do nothing more than lie to me about how they're "improving" it. It's a game we play, and then I move to another carrier and the previous one doesn't get my money until he comes around on the carousel again.

  • Are you a paranoid tin foil hat wearing fool like myself. Do you worry 'they' are tracking you on your Iphone and want certain or all of your apps to appear like you are in Antarctica?

    Well there is an app for that!

    http://thebigboss.org/2010/01/13/location-spoofer [thebigboss.org]

    Not my product just a happy customer.

    • by blair1q (305137)

      You missed the point of the article.

      The telephone company always knows your true location, down to the range of the cell towers covering you (and if they get data from two or more, they can place you in the overlapping region).

      The telephone companies are using that data at the least, and can make a map of your movements that has just about all the resolution needed to create a database for sale to broadcast advertising salesemen covering those towns.

      It won't likely be able to tell one bar owner that you vis

  • by abulafia (7826)

    We really, really need phones to make it easy to lie about location. For your average person in the U.S., it is becoming increasingly untenable to not carry a cell phone with them most of the time. Which means we all have the equivalent of a parole ankle bracelet on us at all times. This is more than a little dangerous.

    I don't care if FourSquare's business model depends on phones being honest - that's thier problem. I want an easy to use app that will report the location *I* want to indicate. Bonus points f

    • by blair1q (305137)

      It's trivial to turn off the "location" service on your phone. Ditto the GPS info. Then your phone won't report it to whoever's installed an app on your phone that wants the data. Spoofing another location seems a bit self-defeating, because now you'll be spammed from a place you aren't even in.

      But you'll never be able to lie about what cell you're in to the cell-tower operator. Your phone is sending your phone's ID to that tower to manage your calls. That's being logged and reported on the telephone n

  • I hope for their sake that they have a team of lawyers assembled.

  • I remember just after 9/11, the telcos pretended like they'd suddenly come up with an innovative way to locate victims' bodies based on cell phone pings. Like some industrious guru sitting in their basement came up with the idea over his bagel and coffee. I remember cocking and eyebrow then. I"m harumphing now.

  • I wish they would figure out that people want service everywhere, and implement it.

    I drive the I-10 through West Texas, and see a huge (250-foot?) cell tower every mile or so.

    But it's worth fuck-all to me if I can't get Google Maps to work because they refuse to put new equipment on those towers to handle data services.

    And there are stretches with no apparent topographic issues where you can't even get voice.

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