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Wireless Companies Could ­se Your Friends

By Technology Review

July 22, 2010

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Each time you make a cellphone call, your network provider knows whom you're calling, for how long, and what device you're using. Now researchers at one of the world's largest wireless carriers are exploring whether such information can help companies target their marketing pitches.

By analyzing billions of call records, the researchers at Telenor, a carrier in Scandinavia, mapped how social connections between people—measured partly by how often they called each other—correlated with the spread of Apple's iPhone after its 2007 debut. The research showed that socially connected groups of early adopters helped the iPhone spread rapidly. A person with just one iPhone-owning friend was three times more likely to own one themselves than a person whose friends had no iPhones. People with two friends who had iPhones were more than five times as likely to have sprung for the Apple device.

Now Telenor's team wants to translate insights like that into marketing campaigns. For instance, a company might send promotional text messages or ads to people whose friends already use a product—and who would presumably be more likely to buy the product as well.

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