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Cell Phones Tracking Nightlife Activity 121

Roland Piquepaille writes "A Columbia University computer science professor has co-founded a New York-based company named Sense Networks to sell tracking software to other companies. It is also distributing a free version of this software, named Citysense, which shows on your cell phone where the wild things are happening in your own town. Citysense 'uses advanced machine learning techniques to number crunch vast amounts of data emanating from thousands of cell-phones, GPS-equipped cabs and other data devices to paint live pictures of where people are gathering.' Citysense is available today in San Francisco, before being soon deployed in Chicago and five other U.S. cities."
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Cell Phones Tracking Nightlife Activity

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  • by LM741N ( 258038 ) on Sunday June 29, 2008 @03:24PM (#23992623)

    ...have been selling devices for years that match up males and females. You program your device for male/single/gay or whatever and when a compatible person is nearby in notifies you. Don't know how they notify- maybe a smoke detector alarm.

    • It makes you feel all tingly in some places ala vibration. Use your imagination with the meaning of "vibration".
  • therefore this application is absolutely useless to me.
    • What? Flamebait? Seriously! It seems like it would be potentially interesting, and I went to the site and looked hoping to find something normal-web-browser-based, but it wasn't there. You couldn't run this thing on an iPhone, either. =( Very limited.

    • by Slimee ( 1246598 )
      How is this modded flamebait? I'm so sick and tired of reading poorly mislabeled slashdot stories that tout around the title "CELL PHONE" when the stories usually only relate to a singular brand of phone, or limited range. Not everyone owns a Blackberry, and not everyone owns the iPhone (which is supposed to be next on the list of phones with enough crap inside to support this app).

      Slashdot needs to get its shit straight on these stories, I always feel very misled reading cell phone articles.
  • by Ethanol-fueled ( 1125189 ) on Sunday June 29, 2008 @03:31PM (#23992687) Homepage Journal
    Nerds not invited ;)

    More seriously, it appears that this technology is GPS-only and not all folks have GPS-equipped phones. I don't understand GPS all that well and I'm wondering how this tracking software can locate them, do they have to consent to being tracked, etc. This also has some scary big-brother implications if it were to move past GPS and into standard triangulation of ALL cell phones -- with or without the user's consent(well, kinda -- what percent of average Joe users actually read their EULA/cell contract/etc.), to be used for marketing purposes(or worse).
    • by icegreentea ( 974342 ) on Sunday June 29, 2008 @03:46PM (#23992801)
      TFA is a bit unclear, but it appears that in order to use this system, you also have to feed it your own information. Seems like a fair trade off (as long as its opt-in, can opt-out blah blah, standard privacy issues).
      • by conlaw ( 983784 )

        it appears that in order to use this system, you also have to feed it your own information.

        Why do have this "wild and crazy" vision of a CueCat?

    • by Yvan256 ( 722131 ) on Sunday June 29, 2008 @03:58PM (#23992883) Homepage Journal

      If a cellphone company ever tracks the cellphones of slashdotters they'll think we're dead.

      "Hey Jim, that guy has been sitting in the basement for the last 48 hours!"

      "Nah, he's still alive. Starcraft II came out three days ago."

      • by iluvcapra ( 782887 ) on Sunday June 29, 2008 @04:30PM (#23993127)

        What's funny is the moment I read this I immediately went to starcraft2.com to see if you were telling the truth.

        But alas, it was only a joke.

      • If a Slashdotter is moving from their computer cocoon within 72 hours of Starcraft II being released, THEN I would send in the paramedics. Clearly he has either suffered from seizures or is perhaps being kidnapped, probably by Koreans upset that he forgot to gg them after a match.


        • ... or said /.er only runs freedomware, and thus cares less about a slaveryware game release than about, say, the latest KDE or GNOME release. Now /that's/ the sort of thing that keeps /this/ /.er immobile for a day or so, up-merging from the last -rc on Gentoo/~amd64, or used to before I upgraded to a an 8-gig quad-core quad-spindle RAID system workstation set to compile to tmpfs. Now it's only 2-4 hours, depending on how much has changed and how much is still in ccache since my last up-merge, and during

    • by vertinox ( 846076 ) on Sunday June 29, 2008 @04:05PM (#23992945)

      More seriously, it appears that this technology is GPS-only and not all folks have GPS-equipped phones. I don't understand GPS all that well and I'm wondering how this tracking software can locate them, do they have to consent to being tracked, etc.

      Actually, GPS isn't required to locate you with a cell phones. The technology exists to poll which cell phone towers your phone is polling and make a guesstimate of where you are based on that.

      With cell technology, you're not simply talking to one tower at a time because if you were traveling, then as soon as you were out of range of the tower, you would have the call drop. So the cell phones are actively polling the towers as you move to hand you off between the closest (or best signal in some case).

      This is how they locate you if you call 911.

      The downside is that if you are in a rural area, and have only 1 or even two towers (it takes three to triangulate), then they can't really tell where you are other than somewhere in a radius of the tower. So this technique only works within areas with high cell tower density.

      On a side note, you could always lend your cell phone to a girl when she goes to a Chip and Dale club and let the hilarity ensue when your friends show up there.

      • While what you say is true the use of the term 'polling' is a little misleading (maybe only to me). The cell phone is continually receives all the nearest signals (its a multichannel device) and may at any time switch channels to a stronger one. Its not polling in the sense that the phone isn't opening short term connections to the nearest cell phone towers to determine signal strength, which is what I think of when I hear the word 'polling'.
      • by racermd ( 314140 )

        My first thought when I read the OP is that this could be the means by which some terrorists plan their next attack.

        No, I'm not trying to jump on the paranoia bandwagon (though I take a step closer every day), but seriously... This is rather benign information by itself that, when gathered and analyzed, is very dangerous.

        "Where are the most people gathering right now? Where can we get the best results from an attack?"
        "Here's a list of the 5 most populated areas."

        See where this is going?

        • I'm pretty sure on-the-fly terrorism isn't a big concern. And generally you know where large amounts of people are going to be anyways - parades, baseball games, etc. This stuff doesn't replace advertizing for events - you need people to get other people to see your event happening. Its more like "who won the 'make my place the most popular place tonight' context" or "where are my circle of friends at". The real danger here that I can see is somehow being able to tie your identity back to a stalker or

      • On a side note, you could always lend your cell phone to a girl when she goes to a Chip and Dale club and let the hilarity ensue when your friends show up there.

        I assume you mean Chippendales [google.com] not Chip and Dale [google.com].

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by mrbluze ( 1034940 )

      This also has some scary big-brother implications ....

      Just on that point, think back to the 70's and early 80's before the public availability of condenser microphones and tiny FM (and AM) transmitters. Big Brother was as active as ever, spying as much as he could.

      Big Brother will be using whatever technology is available (read: whatever is imaginable) to track and follow. If you can imagine someone tracking someone with a device that is always on (or can be switched on remotely), then there are no 'implications' but 'realities' to deal with here.

    • The Government can already track every modern mobile phone out there. It was a requirement so that (ostensibly) 911 can find you if you're in trouble and call for help but can't tell them where you are. The only way to be untrackable unless you have a truly ancient phone is to turn it off, and if you're really paranoid take the battery out.

    • It doesn't have to be GPS only. Look at Google maps for mobile phones....it can approximate your position without a GPS, just using the cell towers. I have had it get my position within 300 meters before. Not super accurate, but better than nothing.
    • Citysense
      "CitySense is attempting to use real time location data from those who download its client software as well as GPS enabled cabs and other "sensors." The goal is a near real time thematic map of activity in the city."

      Eg. go and download this application and we'll mash it up with some other data to tell you where people are.

      Cool concept but the issue of "data access" is the real killer here. Getting access to "where handsets are" is the real problem....and carriers are stuck in the mud about sharing.

  • cool... (Score:5, Funny)

    by hugecabbage ( 950972 ) on Sunday June 29, 2008 @03:32PM (#23992703) Homepage
    now I'll know quickly which places to avoid.
  • by kaliann ( 1316559 ) on Sunday June 29, 2008 @03:37PM (#23992737)
    There's a technology that doesn't sound like it could be misused by local or federal government. Freedom of assembly isn't really being infringed if Big bro just sends nice officers to "investigate suspicious activity", right? For everyone's safety, of course. Could be a fire hazard. Or underaged drinking.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by corbettw ( 214229 )

      Or terrorists, for that matter.

      That said, I can't see the utility of something like this being all that high. Sure, it'll appeal to the posers who want to be seen in the right places; but the truly cool people don't need a device to tell them where the parties are, and the truly nerdy don't care.

      Come to think of it, the terrorists would be doing us a favor if they bombed the places frequented by those types. Let's turn it on and watch the species evolve ever higher!

      • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

        You must have been one of those people who were never invited those those "places". I'm sorry to hear that. I hope your life improves.
        • Improves? (Score:2, Insightful)

          by GameboyRMH ( 1153867 )

          Not everyone's idea of fun is hanging out at a club. Some people would nearly die of boredom at a nightclub. Just because someone else's idea of fun isn't your idea of fun, doesn't mean they aren't having a good time. I'm sure the folks who like hanging out at clubs would get bored at a frantic LAN FPS game (what without people to hit on/get hit on by, the pointless braindead social banter, and the lack of certain mind-altering substances), or would be scared shitless driving around a track at high speed (b

          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by arstchnca ( 887141 )
            I don't know about your LAN parties, but I can't imagine them without certain mind-altering substances.

            Clubs are for people who don't want "substances," rather they want one substance - ethanol. And they want to do so in a dark loud room where frankly being drunk seems alright. With a lot of other "cool" people, too.

            • by xaxa ( 988988 )

              Clubs are for people who don't want "substances," rather they want one substance - ethanol. And they want to do so in a dark loud room where frankly being drunk seems alright. With a lot of other "cool" people, too.

              I thought clubs had lots of people on party drugs ("disco biscuits" for instance). But maybe that's just the ones I go to ;-).

              If the people in the club don't have a similar idea of "cool", then you're in the wrong club (for you). I know places where 5% of the guys are wearing t-shirts that could have come from Thinkgeek (they're the lazy ones, who couldn't be bothered with the whole cyber/robot thing).

          • by xaxa ( 988988 )

            I always got bored at LAN parties (been to a couple, just at friend's places). I'm crap at games, and I don't like the competition, or sitting in the same room all night.

            I'd much rather go to a pub (or two, or three) meet up with and chat to some friends, then go to a nightclub, dance (looks like exercise!) around, then chill out after (e.g. on the bus home, or at someone's house nearby).

            P.S. not all clubs follow pop culture. They aren't all expensive either -- especially compared to the price of a high-spe

            • (This is Europe, perhaps it's different in the USA. Do you need to be 21 to go to a nightclub? If so, I can see that would make a difference to the atmosphere. And if so, what do students do on Friday/Saturday night?)

              Fake ID

            • Smoke pot
        • by kent_eh ( 543303 )
          Actually, I was often invited.
          I usually left early, as my allergy to "plastic people" started to act up.
      • by spasm ( 79260 ) on Sunday June 29, 2008 @03:53PM (#23992851) Homepage

        "it'll appeal to the posers who want to be seen in the right places"

        Except it won't even do that - by definition, anywhere where there's thousands of people isn't 'the right place'. Believe me, no hipster would be seen dead in pacbell park during a game or in some mega-nightclub. Posers want to boast about how they were in some tiny artspace with only 100 of the cogniceti(sp?) last night, now how they were in some giant venue that every moron from the burbs had managed to find.

        • Exactly. Turn clubbing into Disneyland. Check your phone to figure out where the biggest lines are. Meanwhile people who have some sanity are sitting in a hole in the wall club enjoying a drink talking to others of like mind until that place too becomes the latest ride in the clubbing Disneyland.

          Nightlife magazines will soon be reporting how to find clubs and trendy spots that are OFF the information grid. Personally, I can't wait for that one.

          • I could see this being used in actually a pretty cool way by looking and seeing where there's a few people (not a lot mind you), and hopping to that place. Then, as that place gets more popular (10: more people there 20: more people come 30: goto 10), you can find another lightly popular place and hop there.
    • Or used - to allocate police, fire, etc. where issues could be more predicable.
    • by maxume ( 22995 )

      The clever anarchists will leave their phones at home, or perhaps employ the 'off' feature of the phone.

    • Easy way to add aftershocks to a flash-mob!

    • I'm starting to think David Brin is right.   There's just so much more information "out there" and attainable.  I'm not sure it's possible to stop it, and so the least of the possible evils is just total transparency.
  • Two words... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by seanellis ( 302682 ) on Sunday June 29, 2008 @03:47PM (#23992809) Homepage Journal

    "Flash crowd."

    Larry Niven, 1973. Sure, we don't have the instant travel, but this sounds like it would give much more immediate information than waiting for Jerryberry Jansen to randomly turn up at the incident with a portable TV camera.

  • Las Vegas (Score:2, Informative)

    by strabes ( 1075839 )
    Having been born and raised in Las Vegas, this type of service seems quite unnecessary in this town. After all, everyone knows where "the wild things are happening" here.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Outside of areas with small populations, who in the demographic looking for nightlife would look for large groups of people to help determine where to go for fun? That's perhaps even dumber than determining the best movie to see based solely on the box office receipts from the weekend before.

  • Not helping at all (Score:5, Insightful)

    by billcopc ( 196330 ) <vrillco@yahoo.com> on Sunday June 29, 2008 @04:09PM (#23992981) Homepage

    I can already picture sketchy bar owners buying up a ton of these things, to make their spot appear "hot" even though it's dead. After all, the idiotic vodka-redbull sipping bar-hoppers instinctively gravitate to the busiest shitholes, and this "technology" exists solely to capitalize even further on their collective ignorance.

    • Having being in business, I learned never to underestimate collective ignorance. It drives the economy.

    • You want to talk about collective ignorance, read the posts on this subject. It seems no one on /. understands the basics of getting laid or why this is actually a cool piece of tech.
      Not to say I'm surprised, but seeing someone post about how they hate party's for the small talk? who the hell talks for more then ten minuets without trying for a hummer?
      So I'll help out every one on /.: If you want to get laid you need to go where all the chicks who are ovulating are. These Miniskirt clad prey usually move
      • That's exactly it: I despise the "going out to get laid" crowds. They're horny, they act like complete imbeciles, and their sexual tension often becomes violence once they exceed their 2-cooler-drunk threshold. Even more irritating is when you're out with a group of friends, and a triad of outsiders won't stop harassing the women in the group. At one point, I think some of my friends kept inviting me as a bodyguard, to swat away the horndogs. Some of these tards apparently can't understand the word "no"

  • Privacy issues aside, it makes sense to me. People naturally congregate and are drawn to where other people are. If I am in my office, and hear a lot of voices and discussion two doors down and am not aware of why the congregating is occurring, it draws me to it. I get up and go see what is going on.

    This is the same thing electronically. If I am downtown, and a large crowd is congregating 10 blocks away and I am notified, I would be drawn to join them.

    Additionally, by watching how long people stay

    • by PhilJC ( 928205 )
      This is the same thing electronically. If I am downtown, and a large crowd is congregating 10 blocks away and I am notified, I would be drawn to join them. Fingers crossed it doesn't turn out to just be a riot then.. (unless the crowd is loitering round the local computer store anyway as you might be able to score yourself some new hardware)
  • "I know where you were! I know who else is where you were!"

    "I know where you are! I know who else is where you are!"

    "I know who you call! I know who calls you"

    "Now about your text messaging -- Let's talk $$$!

    • There was an actual study of 100,000 cellphone user's geographic habits [slashdot.org] reported in slashdot three weeks ago. The data was supposed "washed of identifing information". However if I google-mapped the 3AM GPS location of cellphone holder, I probably could find out who they are. The study wasalso conducted in a foerieng country whwere privacy safeguards may not have been as strong. The results were quite pedestrian: people spend most of their time at two locations during a day - home and work.
  • If lots of people paid attention to where other people are and gravitated towards them, spontaneous gatherings of people could occur much like a planet would form in a young solar system.


    • by flnca ( 1022891 )
      • Ten people waiting at a bus stop. Ten other people get guided there by their cellphones. "Oh no, not a bus stop again!"
      • Weekend shopping in the stores. Droves of families gathering for the best bargains. People guided there by their cellphones. "Oh no, not Walmart again!"
      • Slow day at LAX. People waiting for their airplanes. Soon, droves of new arrivals. "Damn, not that f---ing airport again!"
  • I decided to NOT have a hardline phone at home because it didn't make sense to pay for two phones.
    Then the telcos decide to discontinue public pay telephones.
    Meanwhile, the EU decides to make it a law that cellphones have GPS in them, "for safety reasons" of course.
    Now, I read stories about big business tracking people by their cellphones.
    Even without GPS, someone can track me with a fair degree of accuracy, and I'm sure someone has some rather fancy software out there that we haven't heard about yet, t
    • That's legitimate, it took police several days to track down a person that they thought was dying in an apartment after a prank call suggested it was happening.

      Then there's the cases where you're calling 911 and don't know the address or are in a park or mall.

      When things like heart attacks, strokes or crimes are happening, those couple of seconds can become priceless very quickly.

      I know it's cool to be all super paranoid, but sometimes "safety reasons" are just that and not part of a huge conspiracy to take

      • sometimes "safety reasons" are just that and not part of a huge conspiracy to take away your freedoms

        The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

      • Just because I'm paranoid, doesn't mean everyone is NOT out to get me. ;-)
        I'm all for safety, sure.. but I'm NOT for having things forced down my throat ala-nanny-state, and I'm NOT for having otherwise useful systems abused by corrupt people in positions of power and responsibility -- and you can't sit there and tell me that it hasn't been happening for decades in our own (U.S.) government.
  • But,but.. I don't have cell phone coverage in my mom's basement
  • by imrtt ( 1287370 ) on Sunday June 29, 2008 @05:39PM (#23993599)
    I operate a free GPS tracking service (http://www.instamapper.com [instamapper.com]), so I know a thing or two about this topic.

    This is an interesting idea, but it won't catch on for a few more years. The problem is that only a tiny fraction of cell phones (I would estimate less than 1%) are capable of GPS tracking now. Of those people who have a compatible phone, most won't bother to install the app and remember to start it whenever they go out. Typical battery life when GPS is turned on is about 8 hours. So this is not an app that can run in the background 24/7.

    In the end, you will have something like 10 people in San Francisco who send data to their system. It is enough data to make sense of what's happening in the city? Not hardly.

    Give it another 5-10 years, and perhaps most phones will have GPSs in them. Perhaps battery life will improve enough to make continuous GPS tracking possible. Until then, this service, and other similar services, will have little value.
    • Good points. They said a version for the iPhone was coming out. I'm reading the iPhone development guide and on THAT platform, you can't even background apps. Only 1 app can run at a time (other than the kernel and low level daemons). The iPhone does a good job of saving state between app launches so most people don't notice.

      For the iPhone, then, you couldn't have anything else besides the GPS app run. If you say browsed to a web site or checked your mail you'd have to remember turn the GPS app back
    • Just curious--are you referring to a real GPS capability in phones, or the assisted kind (a la iPhone) that uses cellular towers?

  • Just wait till some disgruntled college student uses this system to effectively wipe out a club full of trendy young people in one or more bars. Real time knowledge of where everyone is.
    • They're in night clubs. And tall buildings. And airplanes. And streets.

      If we're under constant barrage from skulking Terrists taking pictures and finding out where streets and tall buildings are, why haven't we been bombed? The dinkus with the shoe full of C4 doesn't count. He tried to light it *with a match*. Not exactly an operative.

      Al Qaeda did what it did to get the result it wanted. The purpose was not to blow you up real good, it was to 1) take revenge for a long list of perceived and real offenses, (

  • How do just I stop my cellphone from "emanating" this data? I don't want a bunch of losers tracking down the hot nightlife I find and create, just because they subscribe to some website. TimeOutNY has already ruined too many places with a load of bridge & tunnel dweebs.

    Maybe the cool places should all jam these "emanation".

    • Maybe the cool places should all jam these "emanation".

      But then all the people in the know would realize that the "black holes" on the map is where it was really happening.

      [Insert joke about jam and emanation(sic) here]

  • At our keyboards, in our studies/bedrooms, right?

    (Checks local time: 12:30 am, and I'm at my keyboard checking /. [sigh]).

  • I think that if all cell phones are tracked but have no user-identifying information on them, including a law to specifically make all associations between such data and any end-user invalid, then it can have a chance of being safe.

    It would allow for very useful statistical info, many uses of which don't deal with the end users, but more of service usage reports, etc. Think of Webalizer, but in this case it would be Cellalizer :D

  • FTFA: "Translation: if you have a Blackberry, you have instant 411 on where the cool folks are. Or, are not"

    What? "Cool folks" and " where the wild things are happening in your own town."

    Why would I need that service, in my own town?

    I can only only images tons of cheesy spam-like messages in larger citys: "Eat at Genuine Tony's Pizza. Discount for the next 45 minutes"

    In the small-town it will be things like "Garden mowever 70% discount at Wal-Mart"

    No, it will probably never fulfill your wet dreams, unless i

  • 400 posers follow citysense, turn up at an early morning mega-church meeting and discover religion does not mix well with hangovers.

Lend money to a bad debtor and he will hate you.