Computer Laboratory Systems Research Group

FluPhone Project: Understanding Spread of Infectious Disease and Behavioural Responses  


Project FluPhone2












FluPhone Project was run in 2011, and it is not active to use for covid-19. The functional specification and design including consideration of various issues (e.g. privacy) are useful for the covid-19 mobile app developers. Read FluPhone Summary!

How people behave, interact and travel during an epidemic could limit or exacerbate their risk of infection. In the SARS epidemic of 2003, there is evidence to suggest that people changed the amount of time spent outside and their hygiene practises in response to the perceived risk of infection. A recent study suggests that public transport usage may decline in the event of an influenza pandemic and that people may stay at home rather than go into work and risk infection. If such precautionary behaviour were to be adopted by a large number of individuals the economic implications may be profound. The cost to the UK economy through such precautionary actions may be greater than the cost incurred through actual illness, and there is little evidence that some of the actions that people may take will actually lower their risk of infection. To ensure that plans to cope with major epidemics and public information messages are appropriate, there is, therefore, an urgent need to anticipate how people are likely to change their behaviour in the event of an outbreak.


The FluPhone2 Project carries out the first trial of FluPhone project (2009-2010 - ESRC: RES-355-25-0019-2009-2010), which aimed to bring together epidemiologists, psychologists, economists and computer scientists from seven academic institutions and governmental agencies, with the goal of developing novel and innovative methods with which to measure, understand and predict how individuals change their social behaviour in response to infectious disease. Individuals may change their behaviour for several reasons: through being ill themselves, having to care for others who are ill, or through changing their normal habits in the belief it will prevent or minimise their risk of infection.

The presentation slides of the fluPhone data collection can be found here.

The FluPhone2 project is being conducted by researchers at the University of Cambridge and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Social Contacts and Mixing Patterns in Epidemiology (SCaMPiE) workshop (2011 April 23).

 FluPhone Study

See FluPhone Study web page for the trial of FluPhone experiment.

Could you be a super-spreader?

We conducted an experiment using mobile phones to find out how often people come into contact with each other. All necessary information for the participants can be found in FluPhone study web page  This information will help scientists and medical researchers understand how close-contact infections, such as swine ‘flu, spread between different people. This study aims at collecting the information on social encounters based in Cambridge, UK. It used mobile phones to anonymously record how often people encounter each other, and will use this information to understand more about how fast infections, like swine flu, can spread amongst different people in Cambridge. The study was voluntary and asks consenting participants to download a free application to their mobile phone. This software, specially developed by the Computing Laboratory at Cambridge University, recorded (anonymously) how often participants are in close proximity to each other, and relayed the findings directly and securely to the research team.

All data provided by participants or collected by their mobile phones was only be used for the purposes of this research, was stored securely and was not made available to anyone outside of the research team, in accordance with the Data Protection Act. This study has been approved by the Cambridge Psychological Research Ethics Committee of the University of Cambridge.

The phone software also permited the researchers to conduct real-time simulated epidemics of ‘virtual’ diseases, which only jump between participants’ phones when they encounter each other – these virtual diseases would not harm participants’ phones.

Participants were able to log-on to the study website and see an estimate of how many people they have encountered recently and compare their social activity to other participants. Volunteers were also able to track the progress of the virtual diseases around Cambridge and see which their phone encounters.

Participants were asked to register to the FluPhone Study, however, if a partitipant wanted to try the FluPhone application without registration, he/she could contact us.

FluPhone study schedule:

  • Pilot study in the Computer Laboratory (members of CL plus their families and friends) - April 21 - May 15, 2010.
  • Study in the University of Cambridge - May 10 - June 30, 2010.

For the study in the university, we advertised FluPhone Study via the following channels. Targeting participants include university members, their families, colleagues, friends, and people who work or live in Cambridge.

  • Secretary of department - distribution for the members in the department
  • Secretary of publicity in college - distribution for the members on the college
  • Bulletin boards (e.g. CUSU bulletin, Graduate Union)
  • Cambridge University based societies (e.g. CUCATS)
  • Facebook and Twitter (e.g. Cambridge graduate students, Alumni)

Participants must be over 12 years old (under 16s require parental/carer consent), have the use of a compatible mobile phone, and permission from the owner and bill-payer of the phone to participate.

 FluPhone Software

The FluPhone is simple client-server software consisting of a mobile phone application in the phone and a receiver as a PHP script in the web server. The mobile phone application is written in Java (J2ME), which collects proximity devices data by Bluetooth, GPS coordination data, and self-reporting flu symptom. The collected data is sent via GPRS/3G to the server. Also the user can upload the data via web interface.

  1. FluPhone Application: The FluPhone application requires J2ME MIDP 2.0, and CDCL 1.1 with JSR-82. To get location data, the phone has to have a GPS module. If writing to a file is supported, the application will be able to dump the database files, which could be uploaded via FluPhone web. Running application is fairly intuitive: report the symptoms if any, allow the application to send data.

    How the application looks like can be found at
  2. FluPhone GPRS/3G receiver: he GPRS/3G receiver is implemented as a PhP script that takes each packet from the phones running the sender version of the application and writes it to a file. There is also daemon job archiving the data in MS-SQL database.

    Communication between the mobile application and the server is based on https. The SSL certificate issued by GlobalSign is used for the FluPhone web server.

 FluPhone Software Specification

Documentation of the internal specification of FluPhone:

FluPhone Operation Diagram.

Draft version (based on 2010/06/24): FluPhone Internal Specification. Some functions have been changed since March. However, the basic system design should be current.

Virtual Disease:

 FluPhone Source Code

If you want to access to the source code of the fluphone, please contact us.

 Related Talks and Publications


  • Data Collection using Short-Range Radio for Modelling Dynamic Human Contact Networks. LSHTM workshop 2011 (PDF).
  • Digital Epidemiology: Challenges in Data Collection in Developing Countries. University of Amazones, Brazil, 2015 (PDF).
  • Digital Epidemiology: Understanding Epidemic Spread using Human Contact Networks. African Institute of Mathematical Science, Tanzania, 2017 (PDF).


  • D. Fay, J. Kunegis, and E. Yoneki "Centrality and Mode Detection in Dynamic Contact Graphs; a Joint Diagonalisation Approach".  IEEE/ACM ASONAM, Niagara Falls, Canada, Canada, August, 2013 (PDF).
  • D. Fay, J. Kunegis, and E. Yoneki  "On Joint Diagonalization for Dynamic Network Analysis ".  Technical Report, University of Cambridge, 2011 (UCAM-CL-TR-806 ).
  • E. Yoneki  "FluPhone Study: Virtual Disease Spread using Haggle ".  ACM CHANTS, 2011 (PDF).
  • E. Yoneki, and J. Crowcroft  "EpiMap: Towards Quantifying Contact Networks and Modelling the Spread of Infections in Developing Countries ".  International Conference on Wireless Technologies for Humanitarian Relief (ACWR), December, 2011(PDF).
  • M. Freeman, N. Watkins, E. Yoneki, and J. Crowcroft  " Rhythm and Randomness in Human Contact".  International Conference on Advances in Social Networks Analysis and Mining (ASONAM), Odense, Denmark, August, 2010 (PDF).
  • E. Yoneki  "Visualizing Communities and Centralities from Encounter Traces". ACM MobiCom Workshop on Challenged Networks (CHANTS), San Francisco, USA, September, 2008 (PDF).

 FluPhone Study Information


This study will record how often different people (who may not know each other) come close to one another, as part of their everyday lives. To do this, we will ask volunteers to install a small piece of software (called FluPhone) on their mobile phones and to carry their phones with them during their normal day-to-day activities. The software will look for other nearby phones periodically using Bluetooth, record this information and send it back to the research team via the cellular phone data service. This information will give us a much better understanding of how often people congregate into small groups or crowds, such as when commuting or through work or leisure activities. Also, by knowing which phones come close to one another, we will be able to work out how far apart people actually are, and how fast diseases could spread within communities. We are also asking participants to inform us of any influenza-like symptoms they may experience during the study period, so that we can match the spread of 'flu to the underlying social network of encounters made.

What is our study about?

This study aims to understand how fast 'flu and other infections can spread within the UK. To do this we would like to use your mobile phone as part of a scientific experiment to see how many people you and other participants encounter during your normal activities. We have written some special software to run on mobile phones which lets us work out how often participants encounter other people, using the Bluetooth feature which is common in most mobile phones.

A similar study is being conducted in Japan, but this is the only study designed to see how infections can spread in the UK.

We have designed the program to run quietly in the background of most mobile phones and it should not affect the way your phone normally operates. This will not damage your phone, and we will not be able to see any of your private or personal information, only some information about yourself you choose to give to us when you register to participate in the study.

There are two features of the software, which we hope will be of use to you as well as collecting important information which will help scientists and medical researchers understand better how infections, like influenza, spread within the UK.

  1. The software will automatically detect and record how many Bluetooth devices are around you, how often you encounter these devices, and will send this information back to the study team. This provides us with an approximation of how many people you would meet at any one time.
  2. The software will let you tell us if you feel ill with any 'flu-like symptoms. This will hopefully enable us to see how social encounters and travel can directly spread infections.

There are two things that this study aims to do:

  1. Let you tell us if you feel ill with 'flu like symptoms. This will provide researchers with a clearer picture of where swine flu is in your community;
  2. Provide researchers with important information about the day-to-day pattern of encounters of people in your area, from which we will gain a better understanding of how fast infections, like 'flu, may spread.

About your consent

By agreeing to download and install this software, you are indicating that you are willing to take part in this study, you have read and understood the software disclaimer, and that you are willing to allow your data and the information that the software collects on your phone to be used in scientific research. Please read the following information carefully before you choose to enrol in the study.

What will this program do?

The program will run in the background of your mobile phone if that is possible, and should not interfere with the normal functions of your phone. The software will occasionally use the Bluetooth device on your phone to locate other Bluetooth devices in the area. This is to see if other participants' phones and other Bluetooth devices are in your vicinity. This data will be sent, encrypted, to our server so that we can study the information.


We offer participants from Cambridge the chance to win a smartphone, worth approximately £500 via a prize draw. The winner will be selected at random from the participants at the end of the study, on 1st August 2010. To qualify, participants must be registered, consented and downloaded the software via the study website.

Do I have to register to use this software?

The FluPhone software is designed to work together with your identity here on the FluPhone web site. You have to register, before you can download and use the FluPhone software on your mobile phone.

How do you receive information from my phone?

Periodically your phone will send us what information it has gathered as 3G/ GPRS data, in an encrypted transmission. This will be sent over your normal network, so you may incur charges for it. We estimate that the FluPhone software will use around 1.5 MB of data per day.

Will I incur charges because of the software?

You may have to pay for the data that sends the information your phone collects back to us. We estimate that the software will send about 1.5 MB (megabytes) of data to us each day, but this will vary and will depend on how many other phones and bluetooth devices are around you.

To offset this, for pre-payment plan phone users (such as pay-as-you-go plans) we offer a £5 top-up. This top-up is only available to users who either live or work (or both) within Cambridge. We will determine eligibility by using the post codes you provide on the registration page.

However, if you are on post-payment plan, such as a contract with a network provider which bills you every month for charges, you may find such data usage is already paid for as part of your agreement. The bill payer of the phone, will be responsible for any charges you incur by using the FluPhone software. We cannot offer an offset payment available to those with post-payment plans; sorry.

If I do not have 3G/GPRS access, can I still participate in the study?

Yes, you can. After registering for the study, you have the alternative of downloading the software to your PC and transmit it to your phone by cable or Bluetooth connection. When the software asks you for the activation key, press 'cancel' to run it in offline mode. After collecting some data, use the 'dump to file' option to save the data on the memory card of your phone. Copy the two files 'contacts.dbx' and 'symptoms.dbx' to your PC and upload them to the study server using the 'upload' tab on the website (log in to the website to access this tab). Please repeat this procedure regularly, so that your data is not lost for the study.

Will the software have access to any of my personal information on my phone?

The software will not access any of your personal information on your phone, such as any text messages or call logs, and our program does not send us any information you hold on your phone.

What will you do with my information?

We will use the information we collect to understand better of how people travel and interact with each other. Currently, not enough is known about people's travel habits to make confident predictions of how infections like 'flu will spread. Also, by using any 'flu reporting we receive from you, we can perform computer simulations of how flu is spread and try to work out why it appears to spread so quickly in the UK compared to other European countries. Only scientists involved directly in this study will have access to your data, and we will keep all data secure. We will relay our summaries and findings to the Department of Health, to help them plan during future outbreaks and pandemics.

What will you do with my data?

We take the security of your data very seriously. All information we receive will be analysed anonymously, and only members of the study team will have access to the data; the database will not be shared with any third parties. We do not ask for your full name or address (unless you are lucky enough to win the prized draw), and all analyses will be performed on an anonymised dataset in which e-mail addresses and mobile phone identifiers (such as Bluetooth MAC addresses) have been removed. The data will only be used for the purpose of research into how influenza and other close-contact infections can spread within the UK. The data will be kept securely in the Cambridge Computer Laboratory, where it can not be accessed without permission.

A data monitoring committee will be appointed, consisting of experienced medical researchers who are not directly involved in the survey to give advice about data confidentiality issues.

Who will have access to the information I provide?

The information you provide about yourself at registration on the website and the information we collect from your phone (Bluetooth information and if you report any flu-like symptoms) will be sent directly to the researchers, and will not be linked to your name (we don't collect your name at any point in this study), so we have no easy way to identify you by the information we receive. All of your information is protected under the Data Protection Act 1998, in a similar way to your normal phone calls and text messages and mobile phone location. We will safeguard your data in accordance with the data protection act, and will not disclose your data to any other party. Your data will be stored securely at Cambridge University and only researchers involved in this study will use your data for the research aims described above. We will keep the data secure for 3 years after the end of the study grant (until 1 August 2013) and then all the data we collected will be destroyed.

What if I don't want to participate any more?

You are free to stop participating at any time, even when you've installed our software on your phone. If you wish to stop participating in the study you can simply stop running the application on your phone, or uninstall our software from your phone. If you wish for any data you may have provided via our website (information about you) when you registered, or that has been collected by our software on your phone to be destroyed and not used in our study then you need to tell us in writing to the study leader at the address below or via email, stating the details you registered with us (including your username and mobile phone number).

FluPhone Study Team,
University of Cambridge,
Computer Laboratory,
William Gates Building,
15 JJ Thomson Avenue,
Cambridge CB3 0FD

Is my mobile phone compatible?

Check the compatibility list, to see if your phone is currently supported.

For the more technically inclined, we can say that your phone needs to be able to run java applications (also known as having J2ME support), and additionally it needs to have Bluetooth. It would also be good if it is able to send data over the Internet, but failing that you should be able to retrieve files from your phone, since this is another way of getting at the data collected.

Will the software harm my phone?

While we have tested our software on a lot of different phones including the most popular model, and are confident it will be compatible with most phones, we cannot guarantee that any software will always work correctly on every make and model of mobile. Please make sure you read the software disclaimer carefully before you agree to install and activate the software on your phone.

Will the software make my phone's battery drain faster?

The functions of the software will use a little of your phone's battery, but we have designed the software to minimise the drain on your battery. This means you will probably have to charge your phone more often, perhaps as often as once a day, depending on what kind of phone you have and how old the battery is. If you use your mobile phone a reasonable amount or normally have Bluetooth activated you should not notice any difference. If you find the software causes problems on your phone, or you need help installing the software, please visit our website or contact us via email

What if I don't normally switch my phone on or carry it with me?

That is a problem! If you would like to help and participate in our study we would ask you to try and take your phone with you switched on when you are away from your home. The software will only work if your phone is switched on, and we will only be able to record your contact patterns if you carry your phone with you. We do, of course, expect you to turn the phone off when you normally would (in meetings, during classes, on board aircraft or in hospitals for example); you may need to restart the software each time you turn your phone on.

What if I take my phone abroad?

If you do not allow the program to send data via GPRS (the program will ask for permission when it starts), then the program will not send data. If you use this feature, we ask that you use the "Dump to file" menu option to save the collected data to a file and send it to us using the "Upload data" link on your personal FluPhone page. We ask that you try to do this at least once a week, to ensure no data you've collected is lost.

Ethical approval

This study has been approved by the Psychological Research Ethics Committee of the University of Cambridge.

What if I have a complaint or enquiry?

If you wish to contact the study leader, or to make a complaint about our study, then please contact:

FluPhone Study Team,
University of Cambridge,
Computer Laboratory,
William Gates Building,
15 JJ Thomson Avenue,
Cambridge CB3 0FD

Or email:

The study is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and the Medical Research Council, and is being conducted by researchers at the University of Cambridge, the University of Liverpool and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Contact Email

Please email to