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Big data development driven by your smartphone

Kasia Fulara 27.06.2018

Big data – the term seems to be very ambiguous for some, while others cannot imagine development and functioning of the modern world without it. Big data helps to win election, drives the economy, is used in medicine, sports, insurance, e-commerce, industry, marketing and many more. The potential of using big data is huge and there is practically no area that will not be affected by this technology.

The growing amount of data generated by each of us is conducive to the development of big data. The intense increase in the availability of mobile phones in societies around the world – even the poorest – obviously leads to the collection of ever larger data packages about our behavior. The use of small, portable electronic devices to generate information is obviously not new. For over two decades, portable computers and PDA devices have been used for collecting census data, conducting interviews with consumers of various goods and services, and for probing potential voters. However, access to such devices was never before as wide as it is today. At the end of 2016, the penetration rates for mobile telephony were at the level of 98% in the world (128% in developed countries and 89% in developing countries). According to the International Telecommunications Union, “today there are almost as many telephone subscriptions as people in the world”.

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What your phone knows about you?

Have you ever wondered what your smartphone knows about you? Or how does it find out about your behaviour? Wouldn’t it be great if it could analyze for you things that you are not able to?
Smartphones now can do this, and many researchers are currently devoted to find ways to collect and interpret the most useful information. Modern smartphones are equipped with many powerful sensors that allow phones to generate data about you. While this may alarm anyone for whom privacy and data protection is important, sensors are also an opportunity to help smartphone users in many different, often non-obvious ways.
How much data do we leave in our phones? Here are some impressive statistics:
Over 5 billion people around the world use smartphones every day to make calls, tweet and search for information.
30 billion posts is shared on Facebook every month
Data is growing faster than ever before, and by 2020, about 1.7 megabytes of new information for every person in the world will be created in every second.
By 2020, our accumulated digital world of data will increase from 4.4 zettabytes to around 44 zettabytes or 44 trillion gigabytes.
Every second we create new data. For example, we perform 40,000 queries every second (Google only), which gives 3.5 searches per day and 1.2 trillions of searches per year.
In August 2016, over 1 billion people used Facebook in one day
This year, more than 1.5 billion smartphones equipped with sensors capable of collecting all kinds of data will be sent
At the moment, less than 0.5% of all data is analyzed and used for business purposes, we can only imagine what will happen if this percentage will be doubled.

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How does your phone gather data?

Knowing how powerful data generated by our cell phones is, it is worth considering how mobile devices acquire all this information. The basic tools used for this purpose are various types of sensors embedded in the phone.
Our smartphones contain more sensors than most people could imagine. Android and iPhone phones include: a sound sensor (microphone), an image sensor (camera), a touch sensor (screen), an accelerometer, a light sensor, a proximity sensor and several sensors to determine the location (including a gyroscope, a magnetometer, or a global GPS positioning system).

Most of them the average phone user recognizes well and is aware of their use. In this article, I am presenting a description of a few lesser-known sensors that your telephone certainly has and which you might not have even known about:

Accelerometer

Accelerometers support motion detection and can be found in both fitness trackers and telephones. Thanks to this sensor, the smartphone can follow your steps. It also has additional uses. Thanks to accelerometers, it is possible to determine in which direction the telephone is directed, which becomes an increasingly useful tool in applications based on augmented reality (AR). The sensor itself consists of other smaller sensors, including microscopic crystalline structures, which can be stress due to accelerating forces. The accelerometer interprets the voltage coming from the crystals, thanks to which it can find out how fast and in which direction the phone is moving. From switching the application from portrait to landscape, to showing the current speed in the driving applications, the accelerometer is one of the most important sensors in the phone.

Gyroscope

The gyroscope helps the accelerometer determine how the phone is oriented. Thanks to it, playing a racing game and steering the vehicle by tilting the screen, the phone senses what you are doing and how you move the device in space. Gyroscopes are of course not only used in telephones – their properties are used, for example, by the aviation industry or the film industry. The first wide commercial application of MEMS (microelectromechanical) gyroscopes, i.e. those used in telephones, took place with the launch of the iPhone 4 in 2010. It was then extremely innovative to have a telephone that could detect the orientation with such accuracy – nowadays, we consider it as something obvious.

Magnetometer

Complementing the triumvirate of sensors responsible for orienting where the phone is in the physical space is a magnetometer. This sensor measures magnetic fields and can – by changing the output voltage in the phone – determine which route is north. When you go in and out of compass mode on Apple Maps or Google Maps, the magnetometer begins to wonder which way the map should be directed. It also supports standalone compass applications. To make this sensor fully usable, it must work in tandem with the data coming from the phone’s accelerometer and the GPS device.

GPS

The GPS devices in the phones receive a signal from the satellite in space. To tell you in which part of the planet you are standing (or driving) you do not need any additional data from your phone. Therefore, even if your phone loses the signal, you can still see the exact point where you are currently on the fuzzy map. So how does the GPS system determine our position? GPS continuously connects the system with many satellites, and then calculates our location.
This, however, is not the only way your phone can determine where you are. Calculating the distance to cell towers by telephone can also be used to determine the approximate location. Modern GPS devices in smartphones – to get more accurate location readings – usually combine GPS signals with other data, such as mobile signal strength.

Obviously, phones have a lot more sensors than those mentioned above. Many phones have built-in barometers by which it is possible to measure air pressure, or sensors that measure the light intensity in a room and adjust the brightness of the screen accordingly. Regardless of how many sensors your phone has, all of them have one basic feature – they generate huge data packages, which can be practically used after proper analysis (one example of this use is presented below).

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How all of this impacts the big data development?

Many attributes of using mobile phones affect their usefulness in developing big data. First of all, it’s speed – generating information via a mobile phone can significantly speed up the process of data collection. Where network availability enables near-instant transmission of data to the central office, shortening the time between local collection and delivery of data can save weeks or even months in the entire information collection process. In addition, early warning systems can be set up by mobile phones, allowing analysts to quickly identify potential problems with data collection activities and (potentially) correct them in real-time. An additional advantage is the possibility of relatively simple joining different categories of data. Depending on the function of the telephone used, the text data captured by the mobile phone can be combined with data in other formats, such as photo, audio and video images. For example – if the subject of our analysis is a building, thanks to the data obtained from a smartphone, we can also specify information such as: its appearance (thanks to documentation from the camera sensors), geo-location data (thanks to GPS), and possibly add text information in a form of a note.

The second aspect, thanks to which the use of big data can be intensively developed is, of course, financing. The generation of data by mobile phones can take place at much lower costs than it is possible in the traditional way. The enormous popularity of these devices, the amount of data they generate and the possibility of their rapid transmission makes the business use of big data based on mobile telephony cheaper than ever before.

How your smartphone-generated data can be used?

Knowing how much data smartphone generates, and how the process looks, a natural question arises – what exactly can you do with such information? One of the examples of using data from phone sensors are so-called UBI (Usage-Based Insurance) in which the personalized offer is based on the actual behavior of the driver. At Sparkbit, we have created a special system that – thanks to the information obtained from smartphones – is able to evaluate the technique and driving behaviour. By March 2018, we have accumulated 330 million kilometers of historical routes made by our system users. Each month we have over 30,000 active users, and each of them registers on average over 70 new routes. The route covered by the driver is represented as a sequence of points from the GPS containing information such as geographical coordinates, estimated position accuracy, vehicle speed or direction in which the vehicle moves. Based on these data, the system detects dangerous driver behavior, and then issues a point score for the route covered and, consequently, the driver himself.

This is just one of many examples of the practical use of big data marriage with mobile phones – certainly the potential of this connection is huge and will only generate business popularity.

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