Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Cell Phone Fingerprinting - GPS Tells WHO You Are

Can you be identified only by where you take your phone? Yes, according to a new study, which finds it's not very hard at all.

While most of us are free to go wherever we want, our daily and weekly movement patterns are pretty predictable. We go to work, to school, to church, to our neighborhood gym, grocery store or coffee shop, and we come home -- all quietly tracked by the GPS in our phone.

Click to enlarge.
And with nothing more than this anonymous location data, someone who wanted to badly enough could easily figure out who you are by tracking your smartphone. Patterns of our movements, when traced on a map, create something akin to a fingerprint that is unique to every person.

"Four randomly chosen points are enough to uniquely characterize 95% of the users (ε > .95), whereas two randomly chosen points still uniquely characterize more than 50% of the users (ε > .5). This shows that mobility traces are highly unique, and can therefore be re-identified using little outside information."

Those are the findings of a report by researchers from MIT and elsewhere, published this week in the journal Scientific Reports. (more)