Baidu aggregates map search data to predict crowd formation

In 2016, the Big Data lab at the Chinese search engine company Baidu published a study of an algorithm it had developed that it claimed could predict crowd formation and suggested it could be used to warn authorities and individuals of public safety threats stemming from unusually large crowds. The study, which was inspired by a New Year's Eve 2014 stampede in Shanghai that killed more than 30 people, correlated aggregated data from Baidu Map route searches with the crowd density at the places people searched for. The data Baidu collects from its 70% share of the Chinese internet search market enables the company to tackle social and economic issues of high sensitivity. However, the company believes there are no privacy issues connected to the crowd formation predictions because the data used is aggregated and individuals can't be identified. It also says the crowd formation predictions are not its primary goal; it is more interested in extending its heat map function that shows prospective visitors how large the crowds are at tourist sites. A 2015 study, also based on positioning data, found that the emptiness of China's "ghost cities" is seasonal.

Writer: Alyssa Abkowitz
Publication: Wall Street Journal
Publication date: 2016-03-23

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