Phone app allows users to keep their location information private
By: Travis Clines | BU Pipe Dream
BU professor, student researchers create “ciphertexts” to encrypt users’ information
A Binghamton University professor has created an app that allows users to receive information from location-based services while still keeping their whereabouts private.
Linke Guo, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, headed the research team that worked to create the currently unnamed app. According to him, when location-based search engines, such as Google, look for services near a user, they also store the user’s location. His app would put an end to that.
“When we release personal information to the internet it is out of our control,” Guo wrote in an email. “We are trying to provide a more efficient and feasible solution to make sure that kind of information is secure.”
Keeping a user’s location private is achieved by using ciphertexts. A ciphertext is information that has been encrypted and is therefore unreadable, so when a user uploads their location, the service provider receives the encrypted information instead of raw data. This way, they can still provide information for the user but the user’s location will not be stored.
Money for the research came from Guo’s startup fund, which is given to new professors when they begin researching at BU. The money, the amount of which is undisclosed, is coming from both the University’s research funds and from money that the Watson School of Engineering and Applied Science allocates to professors conducting research. He started working on the app in January 2015, but is unsure when it will be released to the public.
The app will be available first on Android devices and will be free to download. In addition to hiding their location, users can add friends from their contact list who would be allowed to see their location on a map provided in the app. This allows users to choose who they want to share their location with and who they want to keep it hidden from.
Gaoqiang Zhuo, a Ph.D. candidate studying electrical and computer engineering, worked with Guo on the app. He said that the most difficult part was writing the ciphertexts, but working to achieve the goal of providing security for users was why he joined.
“I became involved because it was an interesting and meaningful project,” he said in an email. “The proposed solution of the app we are working on may have an impact on people’s awareness of their privacy protection.”
Yu Chen, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and a colleague of Guo’s, said that consumers tend to worry about their location being shared without their knowledge. While smartphones, tablets and laptops are now irreplaceable in daily life, there are still some uncertainties with them, but he said that this research fills a gap that was present in the communications industry.
“This type of research contributes to the community with new technologies that are badly needed in industry,” Chen wrote in an email. “The broad impact is able to promote the visibility of Binghamton University and build its reputation as a school with high quality research.”
Originally published at www.bupipedream.com on January 24, 2016.