MIT Maps WiFi Users; Discovers Students Sleep In Dorms, Go To Class By Day

from the we-know-where-you-are dept

MIT has started a project to map the location of WiFi users across the school’s campus. The project has multiple purposes. One is just for research: to see what they can learn about wireless usage habits of students and see if that information is useful elsewhere. Another purpose is practical. The system will let students log in and see certain areas (such as a library) is too crowded. It also has an opt-in system that will allow users to identify themselves, so people can find them online — though, it seems like a lot of students have no desire to turn on that functionality. Of course, the research aspect of it is turning up some useless/obvious info: students tend to use wireless in the dorms at night and in the early morning, while during the day they tend to log on from classrooms. However, it also is pinpointing some other useful (if still not surprising info): study/computer labs have pretty much lost their usefulness. Students can just go wherever they want to computer. What will be more interesting over time is to see how it really changes the way students do things. It’s similar to when those who set up WiFi networks in offices simply to avoid the pain of running wires everywhere discovered the unintended benefit: office workers started taking computers to meetings where they could get stuff done, and make meetings much more productive. It’s likely that certain aspect of student life is changing along similar lines, and data from this project should help pinpoint some of what’s happening.

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Comments on “MIT Maps WiFi Users; Discovers Students Sleep In Dorms, Go To Class By Day”

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Anonymous Coward says:

the tracking/stalking use

I wanna spout off about the whole tracking-the-people thing.

In addition to tower data, my phone’s got a light GPS in it for location data for 911; at least, that’s what they call it. new phones will apparently have location-finding for a subset of people who are allowed to know where the phone is.

I’m thinking they’re going about it the wrong way, and the first problem relates to the phone system here which uses locked phones and not these sim card which I hear one can move from phone to phone.

What would be cool is if the phoen can be activated to broadcast an independent user number with its location, and people who know the number can track the number. It’s gotta be a number different from the telno or other (id-theftable) numbers on the phone, but having a third numebr that’s almost always visible and trackable (user opt-out) I think is the way to go.

Users give out this hideously long number to their friends (via sms for accuracy?) and can change it by going down to the local verizon store or so; that way they can mass-revoke stalking rights when necessary, and, of course, disable the whole thing by surfing through the menus.

I’m pretty paranoid, but if I had a number on my phone which was trackable but meaningless unless people knew it was me, that I’d subscribe to such a system. Also, when my neice gets her totally locked phone soon, it’ll be a welcome addition to the supervision she desperately needs.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: the tracking/stalking use

I’m not sure where your “here” is, but there *are* carriers in the US who use GSM (with SIM cards). Cingular and T-Mobile are the ones. That said, those two carriers often provide you with phones that are locked to their network, but this is because they are arseholes. You can often unlock the phone if you know how to get the software to do so, or else you can sometimes ask the provider for the code.<br><br>Verizon and Sprint, OTOH, are locked up tight. They also use a different technology than the GSM carriers, although in theory their phones should be compatible. They often lock them up to a point where you can’t use them on the other network though.

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