Monday, April 8, 2013

When Your Smart Phone is Smarter at Remembering Where You Were

Webnotes by: Theresa Payton, Fortalice, LLC. Content also covered on WBTV’s “Protecting Your Cyberturf” segment, featuring Theresa Payton and Kristen Miranda.

Creepy but real, your smartphone remembers more about where you were last week then you do and there’s a new study that proves it.  Although - did we need a study to confirm that?  MIT and other groups came together to see if they could take that data from phones and somehow track it back to an individual.  Guess what?  They did.

Here’s what you need to know - yes, you can identify a person by tracking cell phones.  This could be a good thing, especially if a person goes missing.  But, in the wrong hands, it could get creepy or become an invasion of your privacy.  The study tracked 1.5 million people for a little over a year.  Cyber expert, Theresa Payton, is with us tonight to talk more about this study.


Think about this - The researchers compared their study to fingerprints -- it takes 12 data points to track a fingerprint down to an individual.  In this study, the researchers said they only needed 4 data points to guess who the individual was within 95% accuracy.

Smart phone users leave behind patterns that over time are unique to them.


They pulled hourly updates on the phone’s whereabouts from the mobile cell phone towers
Over time, they could compare past tracking to current data and work backwards into the person’s identity over 90% of the time.

They tracked:  where the phone went every day.  Most people are predictable:  they wake up, head to work, go to the gym, go to a soccer field, etc.  Most people have a pattern to their whereabouts.  

It used to be that ONLY a mobile phone company had this information but this location information is now widely shared with “partners” and apps.  

A staggering stat - those cell phone purchases you made last year?  Well, 65.5B of those payments were geo-tagged, meaning, we know where you were when you made that payment.

The data correlation techniques used by the researchers required a long time period and large quantities of data.  

Turning off geo-location may help in some cases but really are very few workarounds - other than leaving your phone at home or committing to altering your routine frequently!

SUMMLY - the newest addition to Yahoo.  It’s an app that summarizes an article quickly to give you the key points.  It was created by a 17 year old and Yahoo reportedly bought it for $30 million.    You can try out SUMMLY by going to

You can read the actual study and full set of findings at this link:

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