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Verizon partnership tracks cellphone location data to estimate real-time road traffic

July 17, 2009 |  3:59 pm
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Traffic on the Ventura Freeway. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

Airsage, the provider of vehicle traffic information to Google Maps and other clients, has secured the rights to tap into a vital tool for tracking congestion on roadways -- your cellphone.

The Atlanta-based company has struck a deal with Verizon Wireless to tap into the location data transmitted by its 80 million U.S. subscribers.

The cellphones are constantly relaying information about their whereabouts to Verizon, whether through smart phones with a GPS chip or by communicating with cell towers. Digesting this stream of data, the carrier can then get a fairly accurate reading on where you are and how fast you're moving.

"It's pretty refined," said John Johnson, a spokesman for Verizon, about pinpointing a phone's location.

That information gets immediately transferred to Airsage, which uses it to infer how packed the highways are. Airsage's clients can use that information in their applications.

Though Verizon's subscribers can't opt-out of providing information about their every location, the carrier says that the data it transmits to Airsage is anonymous and doesn't identify the location of a phone with a specific person.

The concept has been applied similarly by Dash, an Internet-enabled GPS device for cars. The difference is that Verizon can leverage the locations of the largest install base of mobile users in the country rather than Dash's crowd-sourcing of its limited number of devices on the market.

-- Mark Milian

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