London: Just four phone calls are enough to reveal your personal information, MIT researchers have warned. A new study led by Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that data derived from mobile phone networks, using just the location of radio masts, could identify the about a vast majority of people from just four pieces of information.
The discovery raises questions over the increasing use by businesses and government agencies of supposedly anonymous data, 'The Telegraph' reported. The researchers noted a simply anonymised dataset may not contain name, home address, phone number or other obvious identifier, "yet, if individual's patterns are unique enough, outside information can be used to link the data back to an individual."
They examined data collected over 15 months from 1.5 million people and found that "human mobility traces are highly unique". "A list of potentially sensitive professional and personal information that could be inferred about an individual knowing only his mobility trace was published recently by the Electronic Frontier Foundation," researchers said.
"These include the movements of a competitor sales force, attendance of a particular church or an individual's presence in a motel or at an abortion clinic," they said. Researchers noted that such personal data, whether supposedly anonymised or not, was increasingly available.
"All together the ubiquity of mobility datasets, the uniqueness of human traces, and the information that can be inferred from them highlight the importance of understanding the privacy bounds of human mobility," researchers said. Artificial efforts to coarsen the data were found to have relatively little effect, they said.
"Modern information technologies such as the Internet and mobile phones, however, magnify the uniqueness of individuals, further enhancing the traditional challenges to privacy. Mobility data is among the most sensitive data currently being collected," researchers said in the Journal Nature.