X. He, G. Cormode, A. Machanavajjhala, C. M. Procopiuc, and D. Srivastava. DPT: differentially private trajectory synthesis using hierarchical reference systems. In Proceedings of the VLDB Endowment, volume 8, pages 1154-1165, 2015.

GPS-enabled devices are now ubiquitous, from airplanes and cars to smartphones and wearable technology. This has resulted in a wealth of data about the movements of individuals and populations, which can be analyzed for useful information to aid in city and traffic planning, disaster preparedness and so on. However, the places that people go can disclose extremely sensitive information about them, and thus their use needs to be filtered through privacy preserving mechanisms. This turns out to be a highly challenging task: raw trajectories are highly detailed, and typically no pair is alike. Previous attempts fail either to provide adequate privacy protection, or to remain sufficiently faithful to the original behavior.

This paper presents DPT, a system to synthesize mobility data based on raw GPS trajectories of individuals while ensuring strong privacy protection in the form of ε-differential privacy. DPT makes a number of novel modeling and algorithmic contributions including (i) discretization of raw trajectories using hierarchical reference systems (at multiple resolutions) to capture individual movements at differing speeds, (ii) adaptive mechanisms to select a small set of reference systems and construct prefix tree counts privately, and (iii) use of direction-weighted sampling for improved utility. While there have been prior attempts to solve the subproblems required to generate synthetic trajectories, to the best of our knowledge, ours is the first system that provides an end-to-end solution. We show the efficacy of our synthetic trajectory generation system using an extensive empirical evaluation.

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