Geolocation Data – Better Than Fingerprints

On April 1, 2013

Mobile terminals generate all sorts of user data, but researchers at MIT have recently published a study suggesting that the data issued by them have a uniqueness greater than fingerprints. Police, for example, can find a with much higher accuracy a perpetrator of a crime from the geolocation data provided by a mobile terminal. Basically analyzing the pings by mobile cell phone towers, the researchers were able to identify several people in the locations that they frequent.

A new paper published in Nature called “Unique in the Crowd: The Privacy Bounds of Human Mobility,” claims that 95% of mobile phone users can be identified based entirely on their patterns of movement.

A mobile operator in Belgium has provided 1.5 million anonymous logs about its users and the researchers found that 95% of mobile phones can be used to identify their respective owners. User identification methods based on information provided by the mobile phones were already used by police and intelligence services in exactly this purpose. The interesting part is that all data were collected between 2006 and 2007, so before GPS smartphones had became popular, so far theoretically identify users would be much easier.