Cellphone metadata offers real-time information in emergency situations that could help first responders and protect the public, according to a study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northeastern University, the Technion, and Ben-Gurion University.
Although the collection of cellphone metadata is controversial, particularly following recent leaks about the U.S. National Security Agency's collection programs, the researchers say many productive uses exist for the information.
The researchers had access to 12 billion anonymized cellphone calls over a three-year period. Cellular providers could not analyze all of the metadata on their networks in real time, but real-time analysis is essential to finding emergency events. The researchers decided to sample subsets of network metadata without analyzing call or text message content. An algorithm called the Social Amplifier aids in locating emergency events, for example, by tracking sudden changes in a node’s centrality that could occur when a person places numerous phone calls and sends many text messages in rapid succession.
Although the algorithm has not yet used any geolocation information, when sufficient spikes occur in centrality over enough densely connected nodes, the algorithm notifies network administrators, who can verify whether the activity stems from a single part of a city.
From IEEE Spectrum
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