March 9, 2011:
China is seeking to use cell phone locating capabilities to better manage vehicle traffic in the capital. Last year there was a jam that backed up traffic for nearly a hundred kilometers and took most of the day to clear. To better deal with this sort of thing, the government will have the largest cell phone company in the area, China Mobile, record movement data on the 70 percent of Beijing cell phone users who are China Mobile customers. This would be an enormous undertaking, requiring substantial investment in hardware and software to calculate the location of users over time, and to store the thousands of resulting petabytes (a petabyte is a quadrillion, or million gigabytes) of data. Only recently have hardware and software tools been developed to analyze that much data. Being able to do all this to more accurately predict traffic patterns would be quite an achievement.
But this being China, that database would also be useful for other things. Law enforcement is one area that already uses this kind of data, on an individual basis, as needed. But China is also a police state, which already spends billions of dollars a year to control what Internet material its inmates have access to, and to track down those who might be a threat to Communist Party control of the country. China has already been investing heavily in vidcam surveillance of public spaces. The proposed cell phone tracking system would also make it possible to know where most of the population is, and has been, at all times. Big Brother is no longer just watching and listening. Big Brother is also tracking your movements, in real time.