Real news from the privacy world

Individuals Are Easy to Identify Using Location Details

A group of researchers concerned about so called “anonymized” data with a partial support from SAP made a research on possibilities to identify individuals based on the location data from their mobile device.

According to the research made by the group it has been found out that it is extremely easy to identify individual after tracking the changes in location of user’s mobile device. According to the report provided by the researchers it is impossible to ensure your privacy by removing identifiers from location or by reducing the granularity of the time or location. The report also states that individuals are easily re-identifiable with just a few spatio-temporal points.

The research observed 1.14 million people and lasted one week, during which 56 million records were included into the dataset. After various calculations it was assessed that over 60% of trajectories with two random points that individuals were using during the research are unique. Thus it is possible to use data on individual’s movement to accurately identify him/her. The identification of an individual reduces user’s privacy which is a big concern to most individuals.

Furthermore the more location points over time somebody is able to obtain, the more accurately and easily it is possible to identify a person. Therefore, even though having only 2 random points of your location results in a 60% uniqueness, data obtained throughout 24 hours of location tracking is much more useful and may boost the identification accuracy even higher. Having 6 location points over 24 hours time period resulted to a uniqueness of close to 100%.

Nevertheless, the researchers proposed a way to slightly reduce the effectiveness of the researched identification method. By reducing time period in which the data of the location is obtained it is possible reduce the uniqueness of trajectory. For example having 2 location points 6 hours apart from each other results in approximately 40% uniqueness while having the points 24 hours apart resulted in a uniqueness of around 50%.

However, by increasing the frequency in which location data is being broadcasted we introduce ourselves with a new problem: we give away much more information to our observers. According to the research we can see that having 2 location points and 6 location points in a 6 hour time window results in approximately 40% and 90% uniqueness, respectively. In order to solve this issue researchers propose an anonymization method that reduces identification rate by over 30%.

Unfortunately, the researchers themselves admit that the method they are suggesting is only a measure to reduce the threat to their privacy and it can not guaranty a complete security. Therefore, we suggest to use a VPN, carefully select which permissions you allow and turn on the GPS on your device only when it is necessary. These actions will boost your privacy security to much higher levels.

VPN uses various encryption methods and rerouting to hide your real location and to provide the location of a VPN server instead. Furthermore, encryption used by VPN prevents your ISP from stalking your internet activity as they can only see that you are connected to a VPN server and the amount of data you are transferring through your internet connection. These features make one of the best if not the best way to secure your personal information.

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