The great Ting mobile data experiment

By Andrew Moore-Crispin

Want to experiment with us?

First, let’s put this out there right away: We’re not twisting our collective pencil mustache in the time-honored indication of nefarious intent. That said, this is not an experiment the more intensely privacy-minded among us will want to get involved in.

We’re looking to identify some trends around data use. We want to understand mobile data wastage; that is, data that’s used whether you actively decided to use it or not. We’re interested in more than just data that’s used in the background… though we’re interested in that too.

Here’s the ask

We’re inviting a small group of people to install a Ting data monitor app on their phone for one month. In that time, we’re asking them to use their phone as they normally would.

What this app does is basically keep a running tally on when your phone is being actively used and when it’s not. Beyond that, it effectively mines Android for the information that’s displayed in Settings > Data usage to see which apps are using what amount of data, when.

Here’s the offer

All this reporting will happen over Wi-Fi if you’re so connected. If not, though, there will be a small hit on your mobile data connection. We’re talking less than 10 MB over the course of the month.

To offset that and to make it easier to say yes, we’re offering a little incentive: $5 in Ting credit for playing along; for installing the app and keeping it installed until we email to say the experiment is over, after a month. Credits will be issued at the end of the experiment.

Here’s what we’ll know about you

First, we want to be very clear: We’re looking for broad use patterns and trends here, not individual data on users.

For example, the app will know that your phone used 132 MB on Facebook and that 125 MB of that was foreground data. It wouldn’t have any insight into who was logged in to Facebook and we certainly wouldn’t have access to your friends list, the content you looked at or anything of that nature.

By the same token, the app knows that Google Chrome used 89 MB of data but it doesn’t know on what site, whether that was video, images or just a heck of a lot of text. We wouldn’t know if that usage was incognito or in a regular browser pane.

It’ll know when your phone screen turns on or off, but it won’t ever see anything on the screen.

It’ll know which apps you have installed but not what you do within those apps.

Again, we’re looking for broad usage trends, not personal ones. We’re looking at data use at the macro level, not at the packet level.

That said, while we would be able to trace an overall usage signature back to a particular individual if we wanted to, Fast Forward Labs, who developed this app and is doing the statistical analysis for us, will not. All they’ll receive is a unique user ID. They will have no access to the database that correlates IDs to email addresses. And again, we’re looking at data use, not data packets. That’s just not how we operate.

Enough data privacy apologism. Here’s the sign-up form if you’d like to play along.

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