Big but Personal Data: How human behavior bounds privacy and what can we do about it

01 Dec
Monday, 12/01/2014 9:30am to 10:30am

Yves-Alexandre de Montjoye
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The Media Laboratory

Computer Science Building, CS 151

Faculty Host: Brian Levine

We're living in an age of big data, a time when most of our movements and actions are collected and stored in real time. This data offers unprecedented insights on how we behave as a species. In this talk, I will first show that location data might not be as anonymous as we think. I will show how few points--approximate places and times--are enough to identify individuals in large-scale mobility database even though no "private" information such as names, e-mails or phone numbers was ever collected. Location data thus truly acts a fingerprint. I will further show that in the case of mobile phone data, this is not "just" metadata and that a lot can actually be infered about an individual by looking at the way he uses his phone. Finally, I will discuss the impact of metadat on society and some of the legal and technical solutions we are currently developing at the Media Lab.


Yves-Alexandre de Montjoye is a senior PhD student at the MIT Media Lab. He engineers stochastic tools to harness the power of large-scale behavioral datasets, such as human movement data, financial transactions, and communication patterns in networks. He also showed how the unicity of human behavior individual's privacy in Big Data. His research has been covered BBC News, CNN, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Foreign Policy, Le Monde, Die Spiegel, in reports of the World Economic Forum and United Nations, as well as in his talks at TEDxLLN and TEDxULg. Before coming to MIT, he was a researcher at the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico where he used cell phone data to model the dynamics of urbanization in developing countries. Yves-Alexandre worked for the Boston Consulting Group and acted as an expert for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the United Nations. Over a period of 6 years, he obtained an M.Sc. from Louvain in Applied Mathematics, an M.Sc. (Centralien) from Ecole Centrale Paris, an M.Sc. from KULeuven in Mathematical Engineering as well as his B.Sc. in engineering at Louvain.