Location data from two apps enables to identify the user


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Scientists and engineers from Columbia University and Google identified a new threats for the web and mobile app users privacy. They have demonstrated that location-tagged posts on two social apps are enough to identify the user.

Even if all personal data are removed from big data there is no guarantee of privacy. Of all digital data shared (consciously or not) by the app users, location metadata probably are the most revealing. They are so characteristic that, for example, it is possible to identify a person based on just four credit card purchases if in the same locations he or she used their cell phone to make a call.

With the help of a new algorithm the scientists were able to identify the user by comparing his (or hers) movements across two datasets. They compared geotagged tweets to Instagram posts, Foursquare check-ins to geolocated tweets and a log of phone calls to credit card transactions. In this way the scientists proved that a simple anonymization of big data is not enough. It should be controlled who have the access to the data, how it is used and for what purpose.          

A lot of people are not aware how many data they are sharing just by carrying around the telephone. One of the authors of cited research, Christopher Riederer, together with two undergraduate students from Columbia University, built a tool called You Are Where You Go, which enables to investigate the digital trail. Based on data shared with Twitter, Instagram and Foursquare the algorithm is able to relatively accurate define your age, ethnicity, incomes and whether or not you have children.

Original paper: C. Riederer i in., WWW'16: Proceedings of the 25th International Conference on World Wide Web, pp. 707-719. 
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