And Yet Another 'Anonymous' Dataset Proves To Be Not Anonymous

from the how-it-goes dept

For years, we've been pointing out that there's really no such thing as an anonymized dataset. There's almost always ways to associate data back to people. We've seen it happen over and over again as companies claim they're releasing an anonymous dataset, only to discover later that it's not so difficult to re-nomynize it. In fact, there was even a recent paper on how to re-identify people based on an anonymous data set. So perhaps it should come as no surprise that yet another "anonymous dataset" has been shown not to be very anonymous. This time, it's about GPS data that was supposed to be scrubbed of identifying info, but some researchers have found that it's not hard to put that data back together, knowing that the two main places people go are home and their office. With that info, you could pretty easily uniquely identify people. Among the many reasons why this could be important? All those silly efforts by politicians to force drivers to install GPS devices in order to tax their driving habits. They always insist the data won't be used for tracking, but even if they're well intentioned, you can see how the data can be abused.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
    identicon
    Sajjon, May 28th, 2009 @ 5:10am

    Anonymity?

    "There is no such thing as a transparent actions"

     

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  2.  
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    NullOp, May 28th, 2009 @ 5:22am

    Anon.

    Remember, its been a rule for years that "Only God can pick a random number." Therefore there are no anonymous data sets!

     

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  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 28th, 2009 @ 5:38am

    If you purchase a phone or GPS device that not only provides you with location information but also spews it out to a third party, you sort of gave up a fair bit of your privacy to start with.

    You can walk around without your tech tools on your belt, without your mini networking system in your car, and nobody will know where you are. You can disable your GPS tracking, and nobody will know where you are.

    If you provide enough datapoints for any single user, it is very likely you can figure out who they are if you are going to put the effort in. It doesn't matter how obscured the data is, you can end up with start and end points. That isn't really going to change. The only way to eliminate it would be to strictly enforce a zero data retention policy, which in many cases would fail to meet up with the needs of companies to prove their clients usages or whatever purpose they have.

    You can opt out individually by NOT using the technology that you feel leads to the violations. You have the choice, individual responsiblity is a great thing.

     

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  4.  
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    Duane (profile), May 28th, 2009 @ 5:57am

    Re:

    If I purchase such a device I am not giving up my right to privacy. I am purchasing that device so that I and that company (to the extent that I allow them to) can use that data to provide me with a service or product.

    That does not mean that the government or anyone else has automatically been given any rights to my info. The two are not equal.

     

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  5.  
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    CleverName, May 28th, 2009 @ 5:59am

    Re:

    "You can opt out individually by NOT using the technology that you feel leads to the violations"

    What are you trying to say? I can walk rather than drive?
    One of the points being made is that the gvmt thinks GPS in all vehicles is a good idea for solving their gasoline tax problem. This is a horrible idea and will not work. In addition, the "zero retention policy" is a joke.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 28th, 2009 @ 7:08am

    Re: Anon.

    Actually no, there are computer modules capable of picking random numbers, it involves some kind of decaying isotope (not your average PC random-nummber-generator).

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 28th, 2009 @ 7:17am

    Re: Re: Anon.

    I accept decaying isotopes as my deity of choice!

     

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  8.  
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    Sean T Henry, May 28th, 2009 @ 7:29am

    Re: Re:

    "force drivers to install GPS devices in order to tax their driving habits. They always insist the data won't be used for tracking, but even if they're well intentioned, you can see how the data can be abused."

    The simplest way to do this is the best as usual. Just require the car to be present to renew the tags and check the millage. If the vehicle is not presented it would have a mileage tax of 35000mi.

    I'm not for this but I do like zero retention but that will not happen.

     

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  9.  
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    Paul Brinker, May 28th, 2009 @ 7:35am

    you can install a tracking device

    You can install a tracking device on my car over my cold dead body. I think there are enough people who would aggree with me on this one to cause a major problem.

    Thankfully I can do something about this, I used a bike for years, still own one, and while I ride for plesure, I have no problem riding for work.

    Sadly new cars will most likly have the tracker come pree installed with out telling the owner, and for a while people will hunt down cars that dont have the tracker. Then im sure there will be a law passed that dosent let me drive with out the tracker. Worse yet removing the device may turn on the check engin light which means I cant get the car safty checked because the tracking device was removed. I think the same thing already happens with black boxes put in cars that record acidents and we know those cant be wrong (100 MPH in a 30 zone with no physical evidence to say your going 100mph?)

    ALL HAIL THE DECAYING URANIUM!

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 28th, 2009 @ 7:49am

    Re: Re: Privacy

    Read the EULA on any GPS. "reserve the right to share your data with our PARTNERS." Partners are any moron who is willing to pay for your information. I know someone whose job is it to buy this stuff. As much and from where ever he can. Then his company matches finds you in all the sources and create a profile for you. Then that company sells YOU over and over again.

    BTW - Nice guy, but he doesn't get free beer at my house.

     

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  11.  
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    :Lobo Santo (profile), May 28th, 2009 @ 8:05am

    Re: Anon.

    Dude, I asked God to pick a random number the other day, She was all like "3!" and I was like "I knew you were gonna say that."

     

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  12.  
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    TheStupidOne, May 28th, 2009 @ 8:17am

    Re: Re: Anon.

    Or interstellar background radiation can be used.
    Or the number of grains of sand that land in a bucket that you threw a handful of sand at
    Or turn the analog signal from a baby crying into a number

    Lots of ways to create truly random numbers

     

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  13.  
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    Guy, May 28th, 2009 @ 9:22am

    Additional Information

     

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  14.  
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    rob, May 28th, 2009 @ 11:42am

    lies...

    there are lies, damn lies, and anonymous data sets

     

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  15.  
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    Jimmy the Geek (profile), May 28th, 2009 @ 12:40pm

    manditory GPS in cars is an abuse of power.

    The simple way to tax people for road use is to tax the gasoline. The more gas you use, the higher your taxes. This works out great because the bigger your vehicle the more damage it causes to the road as it drives. There is an added bonus of promoting alternative fuels and electric vehicles.

    The government wanting to put tracking devices in everyones car would be expensive and very intrusive. It would basically be just like allowing a government agent to accompany you on every trip you make. They don't trust us and they want to monitor all of our activity. It is as simple as that.

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 28th, 2009 @ 1:52pm

    Re:

    You can opt out individually by NOT using the technology that you feel leads to the violations. You have the choice, individual responsiblity is a great thing.

    And if you don't like it, you can also opt out by moving to another country. A lot of people just like to complain but they won't take individual responsibility and leave. America would be a better place if all the complainers left.

     

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  17.  
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    Derek Kerton (profile), May 28th, 2009 @ 8:23pm

    Re: Re:

    Because anyone wanting to influence or change their country is a damned traitor, and don't deserve to live here.

    And anyone has the right to retain their privacy simply by choosing to live like the Amish. It is a free choice, accept technology and your gov't tracking you, or drive your horse to work. You see, that's freedom, baby.

    Our civic duty is to sit on our couch and watch TV, and not get in the way of our leaders who know better.

    *wake up now*

    Dude!! WTF? Individual responsibility is something you define as leaving the country? America would be a better place if the complainers left? Yeah, I guess so, if you like slaves, don't think women should vote, like paying taxes to the British monarchy and such. Rabble-rousers like MLK sure screwed this place up.

    Could you actually have been serious? I can't believe anyone who benefitted from a US public education could be so misguided.

    If Americans fail their civic duty in any way, it is in NOT complaining enough, not getting involved enough, and not getting informed enough. Goverment is not something you set in 1776 and leave on cruise control.

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 4th, 2009 @ 2:00pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    I was with you until this line...

    "benefitted from a US public education could be so misguided"

    read:
    http://johntaylorgatto.com

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 4th, 2009 @ 2:03pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    p.s. I have no "civic duty." I take care of people I know, that's good enough.

    A bunch of old white men sitting around thousands of miles away, banging gavels and writing down rules means nothing to me.

    The only reason anyone pays any attention to them is because they've built a huge hierarchy of low-IQers to do violence on their behalf.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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