95% of mobile phone users leave location data more unique than fingerprints

95% of mobile phone users leave location data more unique than fingerprints
We all know that people can be uniquely identified by their fingerprints. Now, a study reveals that 95% of mobile phone users leave location data that can be even more unique than fingerprints. Last week, a scientific paper titled Unique in the Crowd: The privacy bounds of human mobility was released and offers a study of 1.5 million mobile users between April 2006 and June 2007 in an unnamed western country.

Because mobile phones ping cell phone antennas automatically as they are carried from place to place, a database was built up. And by tracking connecting antennas when a mobile phone received a call or SMS message, particular individual patterns could be discovered. Using spatial and temporal aggregation, a technique used by law enforcement,  a highly accurate prediction could be made as to where specific mobile phone users would be at a particular time of day. This is not to say that these people were identified as they did remain anonymous to the researchers. But with a warrant, we would imagine that individual names could be discovered. Apple has recently updated its privacy policy and will share spatio-temporal location of Apple iPhone users with "partners and licensees".

One important point to understand is that this study was done before the smartphone became part of everyone's daily arsenal. It also was done in the days before App Stores and apps that required your location. Apps like Twitter, Foursquare and Facebook to name a few, use geo-tagging. This data not only allows you to use certain features of these applications,it also helps advertisers focus a specific campaign on a certain area. It's all benign to be sure, but there is always the fear of abuse. If this study is right, location data could some day provide the "aha" moment in a courtroom. And by the way, this was not a paper done by a couple of morons. This was a project developed by MIT and Belgium's Louvain University.

source: Nature.com, FastCompany via textually.org

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9 Comments

1. Gtrav

Posts: 13; Member since: Mar 31, 2013

Anything connected to the internet can be tracked pretty easily. Now we just make it easier to track us by giving our location with google 24/7.

2. Nathan_ingx

Posts: 4769; Member since: Mar 07, 2012

This is scary... We won't feel free to move around soon!

4. Droid_X_Doug

Posts: 5993; Member since: Dec 22, 2010

Which was why all of the uproar ensued when it was learned that Apple was tracking iPhone users - without asking their permission or encrypting the data. The same outrage applies for any app that tracks without getting explicit opt-in permission.

11. Rehankhan

Posts: 323; Member since: Oct 24, 2012

Don't worry you can't be tracked in india

5. JohnnyBravo

Posts: 105; Member since: Dec 02, 2012

I think the scary part is that this research was done before the smartphone "boom." Can you imaging the acuracy now?? "your honor you can clearly see that John Doe went to Dunkin Doughnuts before walking to his ex-girlfriend's and hiding behind the bushes at 12:56pm. After taking a couple pictures of his ex laying near the pool he proceed to his near by Gamestop at exactly 28:54 later." Judge: GUILTY!

8. microsoftnokiawin

Posts: 1268; Member since: Mar 30, 2012

so geo tagging is bad ???

9. Tux_Alan

Posts: 74; Member since: Jan 30, 2013

Wierd how our privacy is slowly (some might say rapidly) eroding and we all accept and even acclaim it lol And law makers are focusing on harnessing their new power rather than protecting individuals... either there's eventually going to be a schism in that pattern in a clash or the midrange future will be heavily policed and our lives will never be the same again.... imagine when electronic wallets become the norm...

12. EXkurogane

Posts: 863; Member since: Mar 07, 2013

I dont see a problem with people seeing my location all the time. Im not a criminal, im not a MI6 spy, so what's the big deal? Geo tagging has helped my friend recover his stolen smartphone because the thief is an idiot who used the stolen phone right away, and many things like photos, location data are all auto-sent to a cloud storage used to track the thief down. If you care so much about privacy, dont use the internet. The public can view my Facebook personal info easily without adding me, including birth date and photos, except mail and phone number. I dont see a problem with that.

13. DoorHandle

Posts: 1; Member since: Apr 15, 2013

Take a look at how a tech startup mydoorhandle.com has helped African communities in informal areas use GPS technology on their mobile devices to get and share proper street adresses with eachother.

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