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Abnormal Phone Reception Interruption

An algorithm that triggers an alert when there is an unusual geolocation and/or lack of reception for a potential detainee's phone.

Photo of Sarah Fathallah
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I thought of this concept when I came across this new app, NextTrain, that predicts the next train in real time by using mobile phone data from those on board. In a nutshell, it uses changes in the reception patterns of riders’ phones to follow a train’s progress and predict its arrival at the next station: Because of the lack of reception in the subway system, riders’ phones are unable to connect to base stations, or cell phone towers, along the route. Using a certain algorithm, NextTrain monitors that data which aggregates the information and predicts the train’s arrival time at the next station in real time, in a passive manner and with negligible effect on battery life.

What if we used a similar technology with people who are at risk of unlawful detention, in order to determine accurately when they are abducted and alert their families/the authorities/the civic society on time?
The algorithm would have to integrate pre-determined data on the usual use and reception of the person's phone (say, in certain places where that person goes, we know there's a lack of reception, but for a determined amount of time, for example: under a bridge for no longer than 3 minutes). 
If the detainers choose to just throw away the phone instead of turning it off, the alert would still work by observing a suspicious lack of movement in an area that wasn't originally integrated as so in the algorithm.

For this to work, the person would have to have an understanding that they need to keep their phone switched on at all times, day and night (which might not be relevant in locations where there's little electricity).
The biggest weakness of this concept is that it currently only works with specific iPhone and Android devices. This would work a lot better when more devices will be supported (which may be accelerated with this new use of the same technology?)

I'm guessing this still has many flaws, but I'm throwing it out there in hope of builds and suggestions to make it better.

Image source: Flickr - Andy Arthur


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Photo of Paul Reader

Hi Sarah,
I think I can see this working well in a Village Telco type mesh network situation where multiple points on the mesh should know where any given device is located. I'm sure it could be developed up by collaboration between the app and mesh developers.

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