Data stored by cellphone company mapped – the results are astonishing

The New York Times draws our attention to some impressive data journalism from Zeit Online.

After a legal battle, Malte Spitz from the German Green party, managed to gain access to records kept by his cellphone company, telecoms giant Deutsche Telekom. Information about his previous 6 months activity, which phone companies are compelled, by German law, to store on every customer.

Astonishingly the data-set included 35,831 records of Internet activity, texts and telephone calls – phone numbers, geographic locations, start and end times. Not that he was an unusually prolific user. Most of this was background activity caused by his mobile phone simply being left on and syncing with his email account every few minutes.

Normally this kind of story world end there, readers would be left to imagine what could be done with such information. But what Zeit Online have done (with Spitz’s permission) is turned this into a real world example – published a spreadsheet and mapped it all out in an interactive application.

Map showing every movement tracked by cellphone company - from Zeit Online

The result is an incredibly spooky, near complete record of his movements over a 6 month period. Where he worked, lived, slept and socialized during that time. When he was available or unavailable, how he travelled, who he communicated with – basically his entire life. You can play back the complete time-line as an animation and see his movements drawn out map. Jump backwards and forwards to different dates.

As a follow-up the New York Times got in contact with Verizon, to ask what its  data retention policy is. The company declined to comment.

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