Infoscience

Thesis

Context and Semantic Aware Location Privacy

With ever-increasing computational power, and improved sensing and communication capabilities, smart devices have altered and enhanced the way we process, perceive and interact with information. Personal and contextual data is tracked and stored extensively on these devices and, oftentimes, ubiquitously sent to online service providers. This routine is proving to be quite privacy-invasive, since these service providers mine the data they collect in order to infer more and more personal information about users. Protecting privacy in the rise of mobile applications is a critical challenge. The continuous tracking of users with location- and time-stamps expose their private lives at an alarming level. Location traces can be used to infer intimate aspects of users' lives such as interests, political orientation, religious beliefs, and even more. Traditional approaches to protecting privacy fail to meet users' expectations due to simplistic adversary models and the lack of a multi-dimensional awareness. In this thesis, the development of privacy-protection approaches is pushed further by (i) adapting to concrete adversary capabilities and (ii) investigating the threat of strong adversaries that exploit location semantics. We first study user mobility and spatio-temporal correlations in continuous disclosure scenarios (e.g., sensing applications), where the more frequently a user discloses her location, the more difficult it becomes to protect. To counter this threat, we develop adversary- and mobility-aware privacy protection mechanisms that aim to minimize an adversary's exploitation of user mobility. We demonstrate that a privacy protection mechanism must actively evaluate privacy risks in order to adapt its protection parameters. We further develop an Android library that provides on-device location privacy evaluation and enables any location-based application to support privacy-preserving services. We also implement an adversary-aware protection mechanism in this library with semantic-based privacy settings. Furthermore, we study the effects of an adversary that exploits location semantics in order to strengthen his attacks on user traces. Such extensive information is available to an adversary via maps of points of interest, but also from users themselves. Typically, users of online social networks want to announce their whereabouts to their circles. They do so mostly, if not always, by sharing the type of their location along with the geographical coordinates. We formalize this setting and by using Bayesian inference show that if location semantics of traces is disclosed, users' privacy levels drop considerably. Moreover, we study the time-of-day information and its relation to location semantics. We reveal that an adversary can breach privacy further by exploiting time-dependency of semantics. We implement and evaluate a sensitivity-aware protection mechanism in this setting as well. The battle for privacy requires social awareness and will to win. However, the slow progress on the front of law and regulations pushes the need for technological solutions. This thesis concludes that we have a long way to cover in order to establish privacy-enhancing technologies in our age of information. Our findings opens up new venues for a more expeditious understanding of privacy risks and thus their prevention.

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