Synthesizing Plausible Privacy-Preserving Location Traces

In: IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy (2016)

Type: Conference
Venue: S&P (Oakland)
Acceptance Rate

Camouflaging user's actual location with fakes is a prevalent obfuscation technique for protecting location privacy. We show that the protection mechanisms based on the existing (ad hoc) techniques for generating fake locations are easily broken by inference attacks. They are also detrimental to many utility functions, as they fail to credibly imitate the mobility of living people. This paper introduces a systematic approach to synthesizing plausible location traces. We propose metrics that capture both geographic and semantic features of real location traces. Based on these statistical metrics, we design a privacy-preserving generative model to synthesize location traces which are plausible to be trajectories of some individuals with consistent lifestyles and meaningful mobilities. Using a state-of-the-art quantitative framework, we show that our synthetic traces can significantly paralyze location inference attacks. We also show that these fake traces have many useful statistical features in common with real traces, thus can be used in many geo-data analysis tasks. We guarantee that the process of generating synthetic traces itself is privacy preserving and ensures plausible deniability. Thus, although the crafted traces statistically resemble human mobility, they do not leak significant information about any particular individual whose data is used in the synthesis process.