Exactly how smart do you want your smartphone to be? That is an important question these days, especially given the corresponding privacy concerns. Our smartphones increasingly become the digital repository of a wealth of data about usdata that marketers would love to leverage. Accessing and leveraging this data is called reality mining. Christopher Mims writes about how powerful it can be (Mining the Mobile Life Scientific American, December 2012, pp. 4243):
Companies that parse location data emitted by our cell phones can now accurately predict where each of us will be at any point during the day. They can also figure out from phone records who our friends, family and coworkers are, when we are likely to get the flu, and what the demographics of any major metropolitan street corner will be at any moment. (p. 42)
That sounds pretty powerful. Thats because it is. And I certainly do understand the privacy concerns. Nevertheless, I think we are sometimes too quick to look at just the threats of a technological capability rather than considering the benefits too. Mims points out the growing opportunities to use this technology for extremely humane helpful matters:
Reality mining could become essential to how we navigate our everyday lives, not to mention enormously useful for corporations and governments. For example, work in Haiti allowed relief agencies to send texts to cell phone users whose location histories indicated that they might have been exposed to cholera. (p. 43)
The kicker is going to be whether we get past the privacy concerns. Obviously, this wont be an easy matter to resolve to everyones satisfaction. We must assess privacy rights at every step in situations like this, and we all have different feelings about our personal privacy.
Researchers tapping preexisting data have already figured out some interesting tidbits. For example, here are the three times a consumer is most likely to respond to a smartphone ad:
1Sitting in a movie theater just before the film begins.
2Sitting at home on a Sunday morning.
3Waiting for a bite while fishing.
It sounds like reality mining is as real as it gets!
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