Towards matching user mobility traces in large-scale datasets

Paper by Daniel Kondor, Behrooz Hashemian,  Yves-Alexandre de Montjoye and Carlo Ratti: “The problem of unicity and reidentifiability of records in large-scale databases has been studied in different contexts and approaches, with focus on preserving privacy or matching records from different data sources. With an increasing number of service providers nowadays routinely collecting location traces of their users on unprecedented scales, there is a pronounced interest in the possibility of matching records and datasets based on spatial trajectories. Extending previous work on reidentifiability of spatial data and trajectory matching, we present the first large-scale analysis of user matchability in real mobility datasets on realistic scales, i.e. among two datasets that consist of several million people’s mobility traces, coming from a mobile network operator and transportation smart card usage. We extract the relevant statistical properties which influence the matching process and analyze their impact on the matchability of users. We show that for individuals with typical activity in the transportation system (those making 3-4 trips per day on average), a matching algorithm based on the co-occurrence of their activities is expected to achieve a 16.8% success only after a one-week long observation of their mobility traces, and over 55% after four weeks. We show that the main determinant of matchability is the expected number of co-occurring records in the two datasets. Finally, we discuss different scenarios in terms of data collection frequency and give estimates of matchability over time. We show that with higher frequency data collection becoming more common, we can expect much higher success rates in even shorter intervals….(More)”.