Yemen Calling

Seven Things Cell Data Reveal About Life In the Republic

A woman takes pictures with a mobile phone from behind a barrier separating women from men at Taghyeer (Change) Square, in Sanaa, January 26, 2012. Khaled Abdullah / Reuters

Advanced information technologies have revolutionized the way the world works and how people conceptualize it. Massive troves of information, known as “big data,” are aggregated and shared on a daily basis, recording an array of human behaviors and interactions at an unprecedented level of granularity. One form of such data is call data records, which, while preserving the anonymity of subscribers and the privacy of content, allow researchers to track the volume of traffic, timing, and location of calls. In combination with increasingly powerful computers, such data have shed light on important questions in the developed world on topics including marketing, health care, urban planning, and environmental policy.

Call data can also help us understand violent places in the developing world that are largely inaccessible. At a time when Yemen remains highly volatile, for example, anonymous Yemeni cell phone metadata from 2010 to 2013 that include over ten million users and several

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