A study detailed in Nature
exposes the local nature of humans: we like to hang around our homes.
But that's not what caught our interest. It's the way the study was conducted.
Researchers used cell phone towers to track individuals' locations whenever they made or received phone calls and text messages over six months. In a second set of records, researchers took another 206 cell phones that had tracking devices in them and got records for their locations every two hours over a week's time period.
The study was based on cell phone records from a private company, whose name also was not disclosed.
Study co-author Cesar Hidalgo, a physics researcher at Northeastern, said he and his colleagues didn't know the individual phone numbers because they were disguised into "ugly" 26-digit-and-letter codes.
That type of nonconsensual tracking would be illegal in the United States, according to Rob Kenny, a spokesman for the Federal Communications Commission. Consensual tracking, however, is legal and even marketed as a special feature by some U.S. cell phone providers.
The study showed that 75% of people stay within a 20 mile circle around their home during the six months. But data withstanding: readers, despite the fact that researchers say they went to extremes to ensure privacy, how would you like to be one of the "participants" in the study?