Your Cellphone Data Might Reveal Your Employment Status, Plus 4 More Weird Things Your Phone Says About You
While you're draining your smartphone's data with texting, Facebook chatting, and Google mapping, you're also providing another kind of data: information about your behavior that advertisers, researchers, and the gadget providers themselves analyze to learn about their users. This data has revealed some pretty bizarre patterns that can let those privy to your phone habits glean seemingly private information about you. A recent study, for example, determined whether some auto parts plant employees were laid off from their jobs by analyzing cell data gathered from a cell phone tower near the plant.
After the plant closed, nearby calls from certain numbers sharply declined, indicating that people with those numbers had been laid off. The researchers then analyzed the phone carriers' behavior following the layoff, comparing laid-off employees to those who stuck around and to people who never worked at the plant, and found that the number of calls laid-off employees made, as well as the number of contacts they called, dropped dramatically after the layoff. Laid-off employees were also less likely to direct their calls to someone in the same town and more likely to stop calling a contact they had called during a previous month. "This loss of social connections may amplify the negative consequences associated with job loss observed in other studies," the authors concluded — or perhaps they could result from these negative consequences of job loss, which include stress and depression.
The authors also worked backwards to show how these patterns of behavior can be used to estimate regional unemployment rates. In other words, your calling habits can serve as an indicator of whether or not you're still at your job.
Pretty creepy, right? Here are a few weird things someone could know by looking at your phone:
1. How often you talk to strangers.
One study found that people who use their phones to check the news are more likely to engage with people around them than people who talk on them frequently. This may seem obvious, especially for those who talk on their phones while they're in public. However, an earlier study by the same authors found that, less intuitively, the more time spend talking to someone on the phone, the more time they'll spend talking to that person face to face. Another finding was that people who use their phones to make plans are more likely to participate in public conversations.
2. Where you are in your menstrual cycle.
One study showed that ovulating women are less likely to call their fathers and spend less time on the phone when they do talk. I kid you not. One of the study's authors said in a press release that females in other species have less contact with male relatives during ovulation, likely to avoid inbreeding. Though... was that really a problem to begin with? Studies also show that women are more likely to dress attractively, speak flirtatiously, and even cheat during this time. So maybe our minds are just focused on things other than family phone calls?
3. Which people on your contacts list are related to you.
One study showed that people call their friends for a much longer duration at night than their relatives. "This would reinforce the claim that relationships with kin are less fragile than those with friends, and hence require less persistent and less special servicing," the authors write. (Especially when you're ovulating, apparently.)
4. Where you are.
This is getting creepy. Cell phone companies have long detected their users' locations using towers stationed in various locations, but what's new is how external companies are using this data. Some retailers can detect when you're in or near a store in order to send you opportunistic offers or switch their apps to "in-store mode." And one new company called Streetlight Data is using location data to detect urban patterns like what restaurants people in a given neighborhood prefer.
So, basically, the day you bought a smartphone was the day you conceded all of your rights to privacy. I'm sorry they didn't tell you that at the store, but I'm telling you now. Still, in my mind, privacy is an acceptable price for the option to check Twitter while on line at the drug store.
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