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Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that just a few pieces of information of credit cards can help to identify people. The dates and locations of four purchases are enough to identify 90% of the people in a data set recording three months of credit-card transactions by 1.1 million users.
Moreover, when researchers considered coarse-grained information about prices of purchases, just three data points were enough to identify an even larger percentage of people in the data set. That means that someone with copies of just three of your recent receipts — or one receipt, one Instagram photo of you, and one tweet about the phone you just bought would have access to 94% chance of extracting your credit card records from a million other people.
This is true, the researchers said, even in cases where no one in the data set is identified by name, address, credit card number, or anything else that we typically think of as personal information.
De Montjoye worked on the study with his adviser, Alex ‘Sandy’ Pentland, Toshiba Professor of Media Arts and Science; Vivek Singh, a former postdoc in Pentland’s group who is now an assistant professor at Rutgers University; and Laura Radaelli, a postdoc at Tel Aviv University.