Researchers use “anonymous phone data” to predict disease outbreaks

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A team of researchers from the universities of Princeton and Harvard have just presented a new case study that saw them analyzing the phone call records of 15 million users in Kenya in order to try and predict outbreaks of infectious diseases such as rubella and German measles. The researchers point out that they used anonymous data from June 2008 to June 2009, including information on where the phone calls were made from.

The calling records were compared to areas where rubella was reported and the results showed that movement patterns matched the locations with the highest risks of the disease’s outbreaks. According to the researchers, such data can be used to predict within-country movement patterns so that people can receive faster localized treatments. If that proves successful, movement predictions can then be used to stop the disease from spreading further.

The next step is to research whether or not such data can be used to predict outbreaks of additional diseases such as malaria and outbreaks which should really help medical professionals who are working on high risk areas. While the cause is just, it is quite scary to think that data from phone records that old is still accessible to researchers and even though this particular team only gathered anonymous information, others may use it for far more nefarious purposes in the future.