Learning Location from Shared Elevation Profiles in Fitness Apps: A Privacy Perspective

by   Ulku Meteriz-Yildiran, et al.

The extensive use of smartphones and wearable devices has facilitated many useful applications. For example, with Global Positioning System (GPS)-equipped smart and wearable devices, many applications can gather, process, and share rich metadata, such as geolocation, trajectories, elevation, and time. For example, fitness applications, such as Runkeeper and Strava, utilize the information for activity tracking and have recently witnessed a boom in popularity. Those fitness tracker applications have their own web platforms and allow users to share activities on such platforms or even with other social network platforms. To preserve the privacy of users while allowing sharing, several of those platforms may allow users to disclose partial information, such as the elevation profile for an activity, which supposedly would not leak the location of the users. In this work, and as a cautionary tale, we create a proof of concept where we examine the extent to which elevation profiles can be used to predict the location of users. To tackle this problem, we devise three plausible threat settings under which the city or borough of the targets can be predicted. Those threat settings define the amount of information available to the adversary to launch the prediction attacks. Establishing that simple features of elevation profiles, e.g., spectral features, are insufficient, we devise both natural language processing (NLP)-inspired text-like representation and computer vision-inspired image-like representation of elevation profiles, and we convert the problem at hand into text and image classification problem. We use both traditional machine learning- and deep learning-based techniques and achieve a prediction success rate ranging from 59.59% to 99.80%. The findings are alarming, highlighting that sharing elevation information may have significant location privacy risks.


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