PinMe: Tracking a smartphone user around the world

Arsalan Mosenia, Xiaoliang Dai, Prateek Mittal, Niraj K. Jha

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


With the pervasive use of smartphones that sense, collect, and process valuable information about the environment, ensuring location privacy has become one of the most important concerns in the modern age. A few recent research studies discuss the feasibility of processing sensory data gathered by a smartphone to locate the phone's owner, even when the user does not intend to share his location information, e.g., when the user has turned off the Global Positioning System (GPS) on the device. Previous research efforts rely on at least one of the two following fundamental requirements, which impose significant limitations on the adversary: (i) the attacker must accurately know either the user's initial location or the set of routes through which the user travels and/or (ii) the attacker must measure a set of features, e.g., device acceleration, for different potential routes in advance and construct a training dataset. In this paper, we demonstrate that neither of the above-mentioned requirements is essential for compromising the user's location privacy. We describe PinMe, a novel user-location mechanism that exploits non-sensory/sensory data stored on the smartphone, e.g., the environment's air pressure and device's timezone, along with publicly-available auxiliary information, e.g., elevation maps, to estimate the user's location when all location services, e.g., GPS, are turned off. Unlike previously-proposed attacks, PinMe neither requires any prior knowledge about the user nor a training dataset on specific routes. We demonstrate that PinMe can accurately estimate the user's location during four activities (walking, traveling on a train, driving, and traveling on a plane). We also suggest several defenses against the proposed attack.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number8038870
Pages (from-to)420-435
Number of pages16
JournalIEEE Transactions on Multi-Scale Computing Systems
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 1 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Control and Systems Engineering
  • Information Systems
  • Hardware and Architecture


  • Air pressure
  • auxiliary information
  • elevation map
  • navigational map
  • privacy
  • sensor
  • smartphone
  • tracking


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