Differentially Privacy Location Privacy in Practice

With the wide adoption of handheld devices (e.g., smartphones, tablets), a large number of location-based services (also called LBSs) have flourished providing mobile users with real-time and contextual information on the move. Accounting for the amount of location information they are given by users, these services are able to track users wherever they go and to learn sensitive information about them (e.g., their points of interest including home, work, religious or political places regularly visited). A number of solutions have been proposed in the past few years to protect users location information while still allowing them to enjoy geo-located services. Among the most robust solutions are those that apply the popular notion of differential privacy to location privacy (e.g., Geo-Indistinguishability), promising strong theoretical privacy guarantees with a bounded accuracy loss. While these theoretical guarantees are attracting, it might be difficult for end users or practitioners to assess their effectiveness in the wild. In this paper, we carry on a practical study using real mobility traces coming from two different datasets, to assess the ability of Geo-Indistinguishability to protect users' points of interest (POIs). We show that a curious LBS collecting obfuscated location information sent by mobile users is still able to infer most of the users POIs with a reasonable both geographic and semantic precision. This precision depends on the degree of obfuscation applied by Geo-Indistinguishability. Nevertheless, the latter also has an impact on the overhead incurred on mobile devices resulting in a privacy versus overhead trade-off. Finally, we show in our study that POIs constitute a quasi-identifier for mobile users and that obfuscating them using Geo-Indistinguishability is not sufficient as an attacker is able to re-identify at least 63 % of them despite a high degree of obfuscation.