The network is the message
June 8, 2013 2:37 PM   Subscribe

"Green party politician Malte Spitz sued to have German telecoms giant Deutsche Telekom hand over six months of his phone data that he then made available to ZEIT ONLINE. We combined this geolocation data with information relating to his life as a politician, such as Twitter feeds, blog entries and websites, all of which is all freely available on the internet." -- The end result is an interactive map of Malte Spitz's movements over six months from 31st August 2009 to 27th February 2010 as an example of what you can do with telephone meta data.
posted by MartinWisse (10 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
This was a really interesting article on why metadata matters.
  • They know you rang a phone sex service at 2:24 am and spoke for 18 minutes. But they don't know what you talked about.
  • They know you called the suicide prevention hotline from the Golden Gate Bridge. But the topic of the call remains a secret.
  • They know you spoke with an HIV testing service, then your doctor, then your health insurance company in the same hour. But they don't know what was discussed.
  • They know you received a call from the local NRA office while it was having a campaign against gun legislation, and then called your senators and congressional representatives immediately after. But the content of those calls remains safe from government intrusion.
  • They know you called a gynecologist, spoke for a half hour, and then called the local Planned Parenthood's number later that day. But nobody knows what you spoke about.
posted by jeather at 2:47 PM on June 8, 2013 [13 favorites]

Wow, that is a very nice demonstration. Good on you, Malte Spitz.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:49 PM on June 8, 2013

why metadata matters.

...and none of those examples need crossmatching to another dataset, which is where these things tend to get more interesting.

It annoys me that the bad guys get to play with the best datasets.
posted by pompomtom at 3:56 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

It annoys me that the "bad guys" are the ones we would normally want to call the "good guys."
posted by stevil at 5:14 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is so fantastic.
posted by rollbiz at 5:41 PM on June 8, 2013

Interesting, though I'm immediately curious about the gaps (14-20 Nov and 29 Dec 07 Jan). Do you think he removed the data to avoid disclosing where he spent his New Years? Or did he seriously turn off his phone for a week? Or overseas perhaps? If this were in another country, I should think he was simply out of range, but I expect Germany has pretty good coverage.

Would be cool to see the map for multiple users, particularly individuals who travel, such as say a football team.
posted by kisch mokusch at 10:38 PM on June 8, 2013

On 28th december, about 3am, he's passing Berlin central station (possibly having come on an underground train), then continues on directly towards a Berlin airport, shortly outside of where he lost signal. It'd be my guess he flew out of the country for the holidays.

Man, it's scary to be reminded how much you can learn about someone in 5 minutes with nothing but google maps and their location data, let alone their call and message destination logs.

Good thing the British Government doesn't do stuff like this!! *sobs quietly*
posted by ArkhanJG at 1:43 AM on June 9, 2013

Nothing really new here. A sharp knife is useful but you need to be careful how you hold it.

If you want your mobile phone to work at all, then the network needs to know where you are. You are tracked so that calls can reach you.

Once those records exist they are available to whoever has or can gain access, so you're crazy if you expect privacy using a phone (or the internet it seems).
posted by w.fugawe at 2:02 PM on June 9, 2013

So glad I don't have a smart phone--or even a contract phone. I use a pay as you go phone, which I accidentally left at the in-laws' a couple of weeks ago. So for now, I'm invisible. Except when I use my WiFi tablet at home. Or my laptop, or my XBox, or my desktop, or my landline. Yay progress?
posted by saulgoodman at 8:35 AM on June 10, 2013

Nice post from Kieran Healy using metadata from the past to demonstrate a similar kind of thing.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:08 AM on June 10, 2013

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