"Know thyself" is Socrates' ancient dictum. If the Greek philosopher were alive today, though, he might rephrase that to "Know thy smartphone" -- because, as it turns out, your smartphone may know more about you than, well, you do.
Think I'm being unusually silly? Not really. Let me explain.
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Last week I wrote about the controversy embroiling Apple and Google smartphones and the location data they collect (despite Steve Jobs's purported claim that "we don't track anyone -- the info circulating around is false"). That controversy may eventually lead to a long-overdue discussion about the implications of mobile tracking.
It turns out that location tracking is nothing compared to the kind of intelligence-gathering smartphones can be used for. In another story that's equal parts cool and creepy, the Wall Street Journal's Robert Lee Hotz reports on how researchers at MIT and elsewhere are studying how smartphones can be used to predict all kinds of human behavior.
By studying how and where people use their phones, academics can parse out patterns of human behavior that let them predict things like mental and physical health, cultural movements, financial activity, and international travel. Got the flu? Your smartphone may know before you do.
The data can reveal subtle symptoms of mental illness, foretell movements in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, and chart the spread of political ideas as they move through a community much like a contagious virus, research shows. ... [At] MIT, scientists who tracked student cellphones during the latest presidential election were able to deduce that two people were talking about politics, even though the researchers didn't know the content of the conversation. By analyzing changes in movement and communication patterns, researchers could also detect flu symptoms before the students themselves realized they were getting sick.
Other researchers parsed Twitter data and discovered a correlation in the emotional content of tweets and the Dow Jones average. Twitter mood swings matched changes in the Dow almost 90 percent of the time and nearly a week early, per the folks at Indiana University.