HTF: Homogeneous Tree Framework for Differentially-Private Release of Location Data

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Mobile apps that use location data are pervasive, spanning domains such as transportation, urban planning and healthcare. Important use cases for location data rely on statistical queries, e.g., identifying hotspots where users work and travel. Such queries can be answered efficiently by building histograms. However, precise histograms can expose sensitive details about individual users. Differential privacy (DP) is a mature and widely-adopted protection model, but most approaches for DP-compliant histograms work in a data-independent fashion, leading to poor accuracy. The few proposed data-dependent techniques attempt to adjust histogram partitions based on dataset characteristics, but they do not perform well due to the addition of noise required to achieve DP. We identify density homogeneity as a main factor driving the accuracy of DP-compliant histograms, and we build a data structure that splits the space such that data density is homogeneous within each resulting partition. We show through extensive experiments on large scale real-world data that the proposed approach achieves superior accuracy compared to existing approaches.