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Sorry, Your Data Can Still Be Identified Even If It’s Anonymized

Thanks to the near-complete saturation of the city with sensors and smartphones, we humans are now walking, talking data factories. Passing through a subway turnstile, sending a text, even just carrying a phone in your pocket: we generate location-tagged data on an hourly basis. All that data can be a boon for urban planners and designers who want to understand cities–and, of course, for tech companies and advertisers who want to understand the people in them. Questions about data privacy are frequently met with a chorus of, It’s anonymized! Any identifying features are scrubbed from the data!

The reality, a group of MIT scientists and urban planners show in a new study, is that it’s fairly simple to figure out who is who anyway. In other words, anonymized data can be deanonymized pretty quickly when you’re working with multiple datasets within a city.

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