Researchers followed students on the EPFL campus in Lausanne, Switzerland, for ten days, by tracking their mobile wifi signals.
Thanks to help from IT services at the university, researcher Antonin Danalet was able collect information on the movements of 2,000 individuals via their wifi signals over a period of ten days. By linking wifi access point data to map data he was able to plot movement.
Data on wifi movements was then combined with information collected in a questionnaire.
The wifi tracking was quite low cost said Danalet.
After anonymising and analysing the data several behaviours were identified.
The campus has 21 restaurants. When analysed, movements to and from these restaurants revealed two key things. Restaurant choice is dominated by price and proximity. The closer and cheaper the better.
In addition, what people say they do appears to be different to what they actually do. Reported campus arrival times were on average half an hour earlier than the arrival of student wifi signals. There can only be two explanations for this: students wait half an hour after arriving before switching on their wifi, or they arrive half an hour later than they say they do.
These discoveries illustrate both the benefits and drawbacks of this low-cost form of tracking. Knowing why people choose a restaurant and the ability to see the impact of lower prices could be very interesting to restaurant owners, town planners and airport, train station, hospital and shopping mall designers. However, having IT know when you arrived on campus after a night of heavy partying is probably not something that would get many students jumping for joy, even if the data has been anonymised.