Scientists say it is remarkably easy to identify a mobile phone user from just a few pieces of location information, reports the BBC. Whenever a phone is switched on, its connection to the network means its position and movement can be plotted. This data is given anonymously to third parties, both to drive services for the user and to target advertisements.
But a study in Nature warns that human mobility patterns are so predictable it is possible to identify a user from only four data points.
In the past, mobility traces were only available to mobile phone carriers, the advent of smartphones and other means of data collection has made these broadly available. The growing ubiquity of smartphone applications has ushered in an era in which tremendous amounts of user data have become available to the companies that operate and distribute them – sometimes as aggregated data sets.