Mobile phone data helps researchers study Kenya's distribution of wealth

A 2015 study carried out in Rwanda and published in the journal Science used mobile phone records to study the distribution of wealth and poverty in an attempt to fill in the gap left by the difficulty of collecting accurate statistics. A rought idea of geographic location was derived from anonymised data on billions of interactions such as when calls were made and received, when text messages were sent and which cell towers they were routed through. Combined with responses from about 850 mobile phone owners, the researchers were able to build an algorithm that can predict the financial status of a given mobile phone's user, as well as more detailed questions such as whether the owner's household had electricity. The researchers went on to try to conduct a similar study in Afghanistan. They acknowledged that their methods were imperfect, but felt that the work was helpful given the absence of better alternatives.

Writer: Sindya N. Bhanoo
Publication: New York Times