How Much Info Does Your Smartphone's Metadata Reveal?

Ever wondered just how granular and detailed the data of your personal phone calls, SMS messages, mobile data and daily travel is? The ABC has put together a couple of interactive guides to the amount of metadata that can be retrieved from your smartphone's cellular communications records by authorities under Australia's draconian data retention laws.

Metadata image via Shutterstock

The ABC's technology reporter Will Ockenden has shared an entire year of his metadata with the website, and the results are impressively comprehensive. Over the year of monitoring — collected by Telstra through the course of its regular monitoring of all its users, and shared with Ockenden after a long and arduous request process — his location was logged 12,100 times (67 times a day, approximately three times per hour).

Through logging requests for internet access, outgoing and incoming SMS messages, and outgoing and incoming phone calls over the GSM phone network — each with a precise time and date, and the exact cell tower that received or dispatched the request to Ockenden's mobiele phone — the ABC was able to build a trail of his movements on every day. When you look at specific dates, too, you're able to reveal a surprising amount of information:

There are some gaps where no data is available, likely because the phone was outside of Telstra's mobile phone network (overseas, maybe) or was switched off. You can't find out what Will was doing on Valentine's Day, for example. He did go to North Sydney on Australia Day, for what it's worth. As an overall picture, though, any interested party would be able to infer a lot — it's almost certain that Ockenden lives on Sydney's Northern Beaches (somewhere around Manly, Balgowlah or Queenscliff), works at the ABC headquarters in Ultimo (near that Surry Hills cell tower), and he probably commutes via train (via North Sydney).

You can look at it yourself, too. The ABC wants readers to examine the metadata, whether it's through the maps on the article itself or through the raw data in a tabulated list of date, time, and location values — it even has its own #whereswill hashtag. [ABC News]

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