iPhone vs Foursquare: comparing what they know about me


One of the biggest technology news this week has been the announcement made by Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden, researchers at O’Reilly, that theiPhone keeps a log of every location you have been to over the past one year and more. One could argue that it isn’t really news but it definitely is a rude surprise to most people. More so because the researchers also made a tool which makes it super easy for anyone to easily parse the contents of the file their own iPhone has been keeping on them.

Though I agree that saving an indefinite history of sensitive location data without explicit user notification is a terrible oversight at the least, I was also tempted to see what my own data held. So I went ahead and here’s what it looks like.

My iPhone faithfully recorded my road trip halfway across the country, my SXSW visit to Austin, Bay Area and LA trips and also my trip to Michigan and Ohio. I think it makes a very interesting sharing object at this level of zoom. Especially because I have been voluntarily giving that data to Foursquare anyway. Foursquare is a lot sparser than the iPhone data but it has more explicit knowledge of the exact business/venue I went to as opposed to the iPhone data that can only be used to make a reasonable guess. However, overall the data that the iPhone has been accumulating is obviously more exhaustive.

I am curious to run more detailed analysis on my own data, and possibly compare it with other people I know and other data sources I have to see what interesting stuff I can find. For example, it would be cool to see how much time my wife and I spend with each other and how it correlates to how many steps I took that day, what I ate, or what music I listened to.

Are we really as unique and different as we like to believe or are we just predictable dots on the map? At a higher aggregate level, data from cellphone carriers has already been used to find that we actually are quite predictable!

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