An unusual study of cell phone users conducted by researchers at Northeastern University tracked the location of cellphone users for six months without their knowledge—raising ethical concerns among some observers.
The study was conducted outside the U.S., in a country researchers only identified as an industrialized nation. Researchers found that most of the 6 million cellphone users in the study rarely ventured more than 20 miles from their homes.
The researchers used cellphone towers to determine the location of the users. They worked to protect the privacy of users studied. Even so, tracking cellphone users without their knowledge would be illegal in the U.S., according to a report in the Associated Press.
An editorial published in the journal Nature along with a report on the study, heralds the benefits of using technology to give social scientists the kind of detailed data that usually only exists in the hard sciences. “It’s not an overstatement,” said the editorial, “to say that these tools are fostering a whole new type of social science—with applications that go well beyond the conventional boundaries of the field.”—Jeffrey R. Young