How your cell phone can give away your identity

Smart phones don't forget

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Your smart phone remembers more about where you were last week than you do and there's a new study that proves it.

MIT and other groups came together to see if they could take that data from phones and somehow track it back to an individual.

Yes, you can identify a person by tracking cell phones.  This could be a good thing, especially if a person goes missing.  In the wrong hands, it could become an invasion of your privacy.

WBTVs cyber expert, Theresa Payton, shares more about the study and what you can do to protect your private information.


The researchers compared their study to fingerprints.  It takes 12 data points to track a fingerprint down to an individual.  In this study, the researchers said they only needed 4 data points to guess who the individual was within 95% accuracy.

Smart phone users leave behind patterns that over time are unique to them.


They pulled hourly updates on the phone's whereabouts from the mobile cell phone towers

Over time, they could compare past tracking to current data and work backwards into the person's identity over 90% of the time.

They tracked:  where the phone went every day.  Most people are predictable:  they wake up, head to work, go to the gym, go to a soccer field, etc.  Most people have a pattern to their whereabouts.

It used to be that ONLY a mobile phone company had this information but this location information is now widely shared with "partners" and apps.


The data correlation techniques used by the researchers required a long time period and large quantities of data.


Turning off geo-location may help in some cases but really are very few work-arounds other than leaving your phone at home or committing to altering your routine frequently.

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