I was reading a paper by George Danezis related to traffic analysis, the science of analyzing the patterns of network traffic rather than the content of the traffic, to learn more about a person, or a company. The paper has a good introduction to this old technology, and how research is showing further uses for it. When you are responsible for the safety and security of data covered under HIPAA, you are always concerned about the new threats that are being used on the Internet.

One passage was rather humorous and cautionary at the same time.

“Intel Research at Cambridge designed a similar experiment. Members of staff were issued with Bluetooth devices that would record when another transmitting Bluetooth device was in range. The idea was to measure the ambient Bluetooth activity, not only to tune ad-hoc routing protocols for real world conditions, but also to establish how often a random pair of devices meet – thereby establishing how effective the ad-hoc communication infrastructure would be for two way communications. To the surprise of the researchers analyzing the data, the devices of two members of staff were found to be meeting each other rather often at night – which led them to draw conclusions about their, otherwise undisclosed, relationship” (p. 13).

Although the result was humorous, it got me to thinking about how much the telephone companies can learn about us by where we travel, when we take the trips, and who is with us or who we routinely meet. Is the fact that this information is available to them something we should be worried about? I know from talking with young people, they don’t fear the amount of information that is available about them on the Internet. But I’m not convinced yet, though I may be an artifact of times when personal privacy was something highly prized and defended by the population of the United States. Of course, even this blog is revealing information about me, although I’m controlling what is released and when, and that tends to be the determining factor; the control of the data and how, to whom, and when it is released and used. How many people who use grocery store discount cards know that their usage is being tracked so that the stores can more effectively market to them? Is the discount the person receives as a result of using the card worth the stores being able to target market us with coupons so we spend more money?

— Danezis, G. (2007). Introduction to Traffic Analysis. Retrieved February 2, 2008 from http://homes.esat.kuleuven.be/~gdanezis/TAIntro-book.pdf.