Research suggests scrubbed location data from GPS can still reveal identity

Recent Directions All Points Blog post 

On the Anonymity of Home/Work Location Pairs

Philippe Golle and Kurt Partridge, Palo Alto Research Center

Abstract. Many applications benefit from user location data, but location data raises privacy concerns. Anonymization can protect privacy, but identities can sometimes be inferred from supposedly anonymous data. This paper studies a new attack on the anonymity of location data. We show that if the approximate locations of an individual’s home and workplace can both be deduced from a location trace, then the median size of the individual’s anonymity set in the U.S. working population is 1, 21 and 34,980, for locations known at the granularity of a census block, census track and county respectively. The location data of people who live and work in different regions can be re-identied even more easily. Our results show that the threat of re-identication for location data is much greater when the individual’s home and work locations can both be deduced from the data. To preserve anonymity, we oer guidance for obfuscating location traces before they are disclosed. For PDF of the article, visit: http://crypto.stanford.edu/~pgolle/papers/commute.pdf 

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