Privacy and the city: User identification and location semantics in location-based social networks

Luca Rossi, Matthew J. Williams, Christoph Stich, Mirco Musolesi

Research output: Chapter in book / Conference proceedingConference article published in proceeding or bookAcademic researchpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

With the advent of GPS enabled smart phones, an increasing number of users is actively sharing their location through a variety of applications and services. Along with the continuing growth of Location-Based Social Networks (LBSNs), security experts have increasingly warned the public of the dangers of exposing sensitive information such as personal location data. Most importantly, in addition to the geographical coordinates of the user's location, LBSNs allow easy access to an additional set of characteristics of that location, such as the venue type or popularity. In this paper, we investigate the role of location semantics in the identification of LBSN users. We simulate a scenario in which the attacker's goal is to reveal the identity of a set of LBSN users by observing their check-in activity. We then propose to answer the following question: what are the types of venues that a malicious user has to monitor to maximize the probability of success? Conversely, when should a user decide whether to make his/her check-in to a location public or not? We perform our study on more than 1 million check-ins distributed over 17 urban regions of the United States. Our analysis shows that different types of venues display different discriminative power in terms of user identity, with most of the venues in the "Residence"category providing the highest re-identification success across the urban regions. Interestingly, we also find that users with a high entropy of their check-ins distribution are not necessarily the hardest to identify, suggesting that it is the collective behaviour of the users'population that determines the complexity of the identification task, rather than the individual behaviour.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 9th International Conference on Web and Social Media, ICWSM 2015
PublisherAAAI press
Pages387-396
Number of pages10
ISBN (Electronic)9781577357339
Publication statusPublished - May 2015
Externally publishedYes
Event9th International Conference on Web and Social Media, ICWSM 2015 - Oxford, United Kingdom
Duration: 26 May 201529 May 2015

Publication series

NameProceedings of the 9th International Conference on Web and Social Media, ICWSM 2015

Conference

Conference9th International Conference on Web and Social Media, ICWSM 2015
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
CityOxford
Period26/05/1529/05/15

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Networks and Communications

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