The continuously increasing use of location-based services poses an important threat to the privacy of users. A natural defense is to employ an obfuscation mechanism, such as those providing geo-indistinguishability, a framework for obtaining formal privacy guarantees that has become popular in recent years.
Ideally, one would like to employ an optimal obfuscation mechanism, providing the best utility among those satisfying the required privacy level. In theory optimal mechanisms can be constructed via linear programming. In practice, however, this is only feasible for a radically small number of locations. As a consequence, all known applications of geo-indistinguishability simply use noise drawn from a planar Laplace distribution.
In this work, we study methods for substantially improving the utility of location obfuscation, while maintaining practical applicability as a main goal. We provide such solutions for both infinite (continuous or discrete) as well as large but finite domains of locations, using a Bayesian remapping procedure as a key ingredient. We evaluate our techniques in two real world complete datasets, without any restriction on the evaluation area, and show important utility improvements with respect to the standard planar Laplace approach.
With the increasing popularity of hand-held devices, location-based applications and services have access to accurate and real-time location information, raising serious privacy concerns for their users. The recently introduced notion of geo-indistinguishability tries to address this problem by adapting the well-known concept of differential privacy to the area of location-based systems. Although geo-indistinguishability presents various appealing aspects, it has the problem of treating space in a uniform way, imposing the addition of the same amount of noise everywhere on the map. In this paper we propose a novel elastic distinguishability metric that warps the geometrical distance, capturing the different degrees of density of each area. As a consequence, the obtained mechanism adapts the level of noise while achieving the same degree of privacy everywhere. We also show how such an elastic metric can easily incorporate the concept of a “geographic fence” that is commonly employed to protect the highly recurrent locations of a user, such as his home or work. We perform an extensive evaluation of our technique by building an elastic metric for Paris’ wide metropolitan area, using semantic information from the OpenStreetMap database. We compare the resulting mechanism against the Planar Laplace mechanism satisfying standard geo-indistinguishability, using two real-world datasets from the Gowalla and Brightkite location-based social networks. The results show that the elastic mechanism adapts well to the semantics of each area, adjusting the noise as we move outside the city center, hence offering better overall privacy.