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Anonymous Data Collection Is More Risky Than Users Think

Without much thought, users frequently sign away rights to supposedly anonymous data collected by businesses and other organizations, with the idea that the information will ultimately improve their services and online experience. But a new study from MIT suggests that “anonymous” data can be woven together using multiple sources and is far more identifiable than most people realize.The researchers used logs from a mobile network operator and timestamps from a public transportation system in Singapore to match individuals. With a week’s worth of anonymous data collection, the researchers could match the cell phone logs and trip timestamps to a unique user about 17 percent of the time. With a month’s data, a person could be identified about 55 percent of the time. In 11 weeks, users could be identified 95 percent of the time.

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