Measuring Membership Privacy on Aggregate Location Time-Series

Apostolos Pyrgelis, Carmela Troncoso, Emiliano De Cristofaro

While location data is extremely valuable for various applications, disclosing it prompts serious threats to individuals' privacy. To limit such concerns, organizations often provide analysts with aggregate time-series that indicate, e.g., how many people are in a location at a time interval, rather than raw individual traces. In this paper, we perform a measurement study to understand Membership Inference Attacks (MIAs) on aggregate location time-series, where an adversary tries to infer whether a specific user contributed to the aggregates. We find that the volume of contributed data, as well as the regularity and particularity of users' mobility patterns, play a crucial role in the attack's success. We experiment with a wide range of defenses based on generalization, hiding, and perturbation, and evaluate their ability to thwart the attack vis-a-vis the utility loss they introduce for various mobility analytics tasks. Our results show that some defenses fail across the board, while others work for specific tasks on aggregate location time-series. For instance, suppressing small counts can be used for ranking hotspots, data generalization for forecasting traffic, hotspot discovery, and map inference, while sampling is effective for location labeling and anomaly detection when the dataset is sparse. Differentially private techniques provide reasonable accuracy only in very specific settings, e.g., discovering hotspots and forecasting their traffic, and more so when using weaker privacy notions like crowd-blending privacy. Overall, our measurements show that there does not exist a unique generic defense that can preserve the utility of the analytics for arbitrary applications, and provide useful insights regarding the disclosure of sanitized aggregate location time-series.

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