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Can Foursquare Data Predict Where You Live? 55

Posted by samzenpus
from the thank-you-science dept.
chicksdaddy writes "File this one under 'proof of the obvious,' but researchers at the recent 4th International Workshop on Location Based Social Networks presented a paper proving that your activity on Foursquare can be used to reliably determine your hometown. A study of data on 13 million Foursquare accounts showed that researchers could infer 'with high accuracy' where a particular user lives based on their accumulation of mayorships, check-ins and tips. Specifically: the researchers could correctly infer the home town of the Foursquare users 78% of the time, within an accuracy of about 50 kilometers."
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Can Foursquare Data Predict Where You Live?

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    That is tragically horrible accuracy. I was hoping the punchline would have been "to within 1 city block", 50km is comical.

    • by arth1 (260657)

      It also has nothing to do with "predict". That implies that they can give a good guess at where users live in the future. But then again, this is slashdot, so perhaps it's just an overeager submitter or editor mangling the real article.
      Those who RTFA may know.

      • by AK Marc (707885)
        Infer would be correct, but you have lost that war. "predict" means to guess. And your complaints will not change how others say it or take it to be. Do you also correct people when extrapolate X=2 for 1,x,3,4,5? I hear that often, but I've yet to hear anyone else use "interpolate" in a sentence outside of a math class. I've even heard it used wrongly by a professor in a statistics class.
      • by jrumney (197329)

        That implies that they can give a good guess at where users live in the future.

        Given that 78% of people will never move out of the town they were born in, they can probably do that with the same accuracy too.

    • by Dahamma (304068)

      Yeah, that's barely enough to target a nuke, let alone a cruise missile. The CIA will be highly disappointed.

    • Using data pulled out of my butt, I can with 100% accuracy predict a users home town within 21Mm.

      • 21 megameter? Wow, that's actually pretty accurate from data coming from your butt!
      • by jeremyp (130771)

        I can do better than that. With no data at all other than it's a Foursquare user, I can predict a user's home town to within 13 Mm.

        Thirteen megametres is roughly the diameter of the Earth and no two points on its surface can be further apart than that.

  • by russotto (537200) on Wednesday September 26, 2012 @11:49PM (#41473631) Journal

    This study funded by the Foundation for Obvious Studies, and will soon be published in the Journal for Obvious and Tautological Results.

    In a follow up study, they'll figure out where you work, too.

    • The summary has nothing to do with the actual report.

      The data gathered includes mayorships, tips, dones and the home city the user entered, all available from their public API. I'd say using the person's entered hometown is a much better predictor of where they live, especially since 99% of the people entered valid geographical data. Not necessarily correct, but valid in that Yahoo! geolocation could resolve it unambiguously (given exceptions like "Springfield" which is a common enough city name that they

  • by shadowrat (1069614) on Wednesday September 26, 2012 @11:49PM (#41473635)
    That's pretty sad considering that close to 90% (citation needed) of foursquare users are the mayor of their own house.
    • by jrumney (197329)
      I was thinking that maybe 22% of foursquare users use the service only to show off the exotic far flung destinations they've been.
      • A lot of business men use it to check-in at glory holes, bath houses, truckstops, etc when they're out of town. Sort of a log for their gay sexcapades. It's less obvious to the wife than using grindr.
      • by dj245 (732906)

        I was thinking that maybe 22% of foursquare users use the service only to show off the exotic far flung destinations they've been.

        That would be me. I'm not a bar-hopping single guy anymore. The places I go most days just aren't exciting. I'm not going to check in to Target or Advance Auto Parts- I don't have the time for it, it seems like I am giving a "tip of the hat" to a megacompany that I don't care about, and who cares about my mundane errands anyway?

        When I travel though, I find that I get bored easily waiting in various lines, and the company blackberry becomes a boredom-killer device.

  • Possibly, depending on how often you post to Foursquare.
  • by The Good Reverend (84440) <michael@nOsPaM.michris.com> on Wednesday September 26, 2012 @11:58PM (#41473723) Homepage Journal

    Public records can accurately predict where you live to within a few meters. So can following you home, and asking your friends. I'd be much more "worried" about those things than Foursquare.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      First, I'm not worried in the slightest, since I don't use the useless piece of software.

      But knowing where you live isn't the problem. As you say, it's easy to figure out.

      No, the problem is suddenly everyone is that guy from that old ADT commercial. They know when you home, and when you not.

      And they probably know a guy who can pick most locks with a credit card. Failing that, for a small cut, they can probably get that guy who, in the event of a deadbolt, would just smash the door.

      • You know who else knows when your house is empty? EVERY NEIGHBOR YOU HAVE. It takes about two days to figure out someone's work schedule.

        Also, Foursquare checkins (except for mayorships and tips) can be private (and are by default). Non-story.

      • by profplump (309017)

        If you've got a lock made in the last say, 50 years, and it's installed correctly, you can't open it with a credit card. Take a look at the latch of your exterior door and you'll see it's split into two independently moving parts. When the small part on the back of the latch is depressed -- as it should be when the door is closed -- the large portion of the latch cannot be moved except by turning the handle. This is intended specifically to defeat the slide-from-inside-to-out attack.

        That doesn't stop someon

        • If you've got a window made of glass, I can enter your home in 5 seconds flat.

          • by wiwa (905999)

            If you've got a window made of glass, I can enter your home in 5 seconds flat.

            My home may not be secure, but at least it's tamper-evident.

            • by Richy_T (111409)

              At least you'll know someone has taken your TV from the pile of broken glass by the window?

    • by wvmarle (1070040)

      Those records are usually not (yet) that easy to search on an automated wholesale basis. That's a difference.

      Following someone home is even more work, highly accurate of course but it requires a lot of manpower to accomplish. Security by obscurity still works quite well.

  • by siddesu (698447)
    I don't use it.
  • Is this the new Facebook? A brief summary would be nice in the ... summary.

    • by Mashiki (184564)

      I do believe it's a box, with inverted walls which close in on you forever. The more you try to escape, the more they close in. That's how the machine always knows where you are...

      IT ALWAYS KNOWS...

    • by jeremyp (130771)

      Foursquare [lmgtfy.com] is a mobile app that has a database of interesting and sometimes not interesting landmarks. When your at a location in it's database, you can check in and you are awarded points for doing so. If you have the most check-ins at a place out of anybody over some period (two months I think), you become the Mayor of that location and you get extra points for this.

      Sometimes they have promo offers for certain check ins. e.g. check in at Burger King and there might be 10% off your next meal.

  • "With an accuracy of 50km"

    That's not particularly accurate at all - for me, that encompasses parts of seven counties and parts of two major cities (neither of which I live in). In of the metropolitan area of one of the major cities (Seattle), there's probably two or three dozen towns of notably size...

  • Not surprising (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Cimexus (1355033) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @12:43AM (#41474061)

    Yeah uh, how is this impressive? I'd be pretty surprised if you couldn't figure out generally where someone lived in from Foursquare, considering for most people, most of their check-ins will be in the city/town in which they live. I mean seriously, 50 km accuracy? My mid-sized (400,000 population) city is around 40 km north to south, and is the only logical place where someone would live in this area (no other significant settlements for at least 100 km in any direction), so that's obvious. And in more rural areas there'd be 50km at least between towns here (Australia), so again it makes it bleedingly obvious where someone would live. In "dense rural" areas common in Europe and North America where there's lots of separate small towns close together this might be a bit more impressive, but still...

    I clicked on the link expecting a method whereby they got it down to a particular neighbourhood/a couple of km accuracy.

    As an example, checking my own Foursquare profile, out of my total checkins:

    - 1 is in Hong Kong
    - 2 are in Macau
    - 2 are in France
    - 3 are in Canada
    - 7 are in the UK
    - 14 are in Singapore
    - 33 are in the United States
    - 152 are in Australia (home)

    So the home country should be fairly obvious from that. And then of the 152 Australia checkins, 68 are in my home city, which is substantially more than any other single city or town. And that's only looking at checked-in places without considering how OFTEN I check into them. If you look at those figures it becomes even more apparent: the places with the most check-ins are my work and the local airport.

  • Between Twitter, Foursquare, and Facebook's timeline; if you can get friended by the object of your ~amour~ (and if they post/update frequently), you practically have a 24-hour electronic watch in-place. You kids have it so easy these days...
  • Too many people here saying it's obvious and trivial.

    Saying it is easy does not make it so. Academic research is often about finding precise quantitative methods to realize intuitive goals by thus explaining and formalizing the original intuition.

    Newton "explained that objects fall to the ground": easy? No, because he actually used quantitative models and knew how and to what accuracy he could compute predictions.

    Same for this paper.

  • How about we just do IP geolocation of the top two IP addresses each user logs into ANY given service on the web with. Odds are one is "home" and the other is "work"... 50km is pretty damn large for Foursquare, there has been geolocation research which has gotten it down to within a city block or so.

    "Write witty paper about it" ...
    #PROFIT!

    • My current IP geolocates to Kansas. I've never even been to Kansas. Foursquare links you directly to a physical address or GPS location...

      I would imagine that you could get a better than 50km margin if you started building more complex rules. If you checked into a hotel during the same week as all of your other checkins in that city, then it is probably a vacation destination (bonus points for checking in at the airport too). If you regularly check into a restaurant on tuesdays at 8PM, then maybe it i

    • Don't forget the smartphone - that IP might geolocate to the other side of the country! One of my phones resolves to Detroit, MI (close), the other to Kansas, USA (not so close). But I think your idea would probably be sufficient to beat this "study".
  • I, for one, am highly impressed that they only managed 78% with a 50 km margin of error.

    That must have taken a real effort to be so inaccurate.

  • So Foursquare built-in a google name-search function?

    Oh wait, no, this would resolve a person's home with much HIGHER reliability and detail.

  • Atleast for a small town, it gave me a "moved out of basement" badge

Facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable.

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