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Wealth In Africa Mapped Using Mobile Phone Data 34

Posted by timothy
from the tricorders-can't-even-send-money dept.
KentuckyFC writes "The remarkable growth of mobile phone use is transforming many parts of Africa. In Sudan and Gabon, more than half of all adults use their phones to transfer money, the activist website Ushahidi used text messages to map post-election violence in Kenya in 2008 and in Nigeria, mobile music services are a multi-million dollar industry. Now demographers have used the way people purchase airtime to map wealth in Cote d'Ivoire on Africa's west coast. They analysed a dataset from one of the country's largest mobile operators containing caller IDs, the cell towers used for each call and the time and amount of all airtime purchases. The researchers say an individual's airtime buying habits are a good proxy for his or her income. As a result, they were able to to map wealth across the entire country. Their map clearly shows the wealthy cities such as Abidjan, the largest seaport in West Africa. But it also shows an unexpectedly wealthy region in the conflict-ridden area that borders Liberia. This wealth probably arises from illegal activities on the border, such as drug, arms and human trafficking, they conclude."
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Wealth In Africa Mapped Using Mobile Phone Data

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  • by i kan reed (749298) on Thursday September 26, 2013 @10:53AM (#44960227) Homepage Journal

    To be told that something works by an academic is nice, but it is hardly satisfying. Without the data, rigor, or representation, we have no pragmatic way to see how useful this actually is.

    • by Bigbutt (65939) on Thursday September 26, 2013 @11:11AM (#44960451) Homepage Journal

      Remove the last character from the link.

      [John]

    • by Anonymous Coward

      There is a map in the PDF provided for the study. Numerous maps in fact, you lazy bastard.

    • by pjt33 (739471)

      I don't think the editor (or the submitter, if they wrote the headline) saw a map. If they had, they might realise that Côte d'Ivoire is a fairly small part of Africa. I'm fairly sure they wouldn't think "Wealth in America mapped using mobile phone data" is a suitable headline for an article which only looks at data from Manhattan.

  • Would be nice to have an article linked correctly... https://medium.com/the-physics-arxiv-blog/716ca39266c9
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Perhaps there is simply a very high need for airtime in certain regions that has nothing to do with wealth. If a farmer is nearly bankrupt but pays for new, expensive farming equipment (perhaps even taking on a huge debt) it doesn't mean he is wealthy. He's broke. The expenditure is just something needed it to keep his business going.

    Before someone flames me for not RTFA, I got a 404 error when I followed the link.

  • by TheCarp (96830) <`ten.tenaprac' `ta' `cjs'> on Thursday September 26, 2013 @11:22AM (#44960591) Homepage

    Looking at the map, particularly the second one showing the "coefficient of variation" I can't help but notice that not all of the hot spots are on the boarder, but, they do all seem to be associated with rivers. River crossing on the interior and where rivers move close to borders on the exterior.

    Basically wealth is concentrated in unsurprising places along where you would expect to find trade routes. Why connect this with illegal activity aside from being more attention grabbing? I mean I don't doubt some of the wealth there is from illegal activity but, just because legitimate trade routes get used for illicit activity for rather mundane reasons (its where the money is)

    • I'm just reading the summary, but "unexpectedly" seems like a word that might not be carelessly used. Legal trade is probably known and wouldn't be too hard to compare.

      Alternatively, perhaps the researchers speculated that part of it might be illegal trafficking in addition to the usual stuff. Perhaps they suggested this could be a good method of identifying illegal trade spots. And then the downstream journalists siezed on that idle speculation even though it was not the point. Relevant PhD comics [phdcomics.com]
  • Wealth cant be accumulated via legal means and we just have to assume it was due to illegal means by default if you become wealthy?

    F-ing liberal

  • If this correlation of phone spending to income holds for the first world, how long before a department like the IRS uses this kind of meta data to flag potential tax evaders.
  • How many times does it have to be said? War is good business, and presents many opportunities. The markets are always freest when the authorities are occupied with other matters. The same was true in the US during its war for 'independence'.

    • War is good business, and presents many opportunities. The markets are always freest when the authorities are occupied with other matters. The same was true in the US during its war for 'independence'.

      War is fantastic for promoting sexual slavery, to give just one example. Dick Cheney approves!

  • Reading slashdot while on holiday.

    (I was there last year, don't know if this dataset includes me)

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