Protection of geoprivacy and accuracy of spatial information: How effective are geographical masks?

Mei Po Kwan, Irene Casas, Ben C. Schmitz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Spatial analysis and mapping of georeferenced, individual-level data can help identify important geographical patterns or lead to knowledge significant for dealing with specific social issues in a particular area. However, given the need to protect personal privacy when using geospatial data, the possibility for undertaking geographical analysis on certain types of individual-level data is becoming increasingly circumscribed. This article addresses the need to protect geoprivacy while making georeferenced, individual-level data available in such a way that analytical results are not significantly affected. The effectiveness of three geographical masks with different perturbation radii (r) is examined using a data set for lung-cancer deaths in Franklin County, Ohio, in 1999. The findings reveal a rather consistent trade-off between data confidentiality and accuracy of analytical results. There seems to be a threshold r-value at which the results of analyses on masked data become substantially different from the original results. An r that produces an area about the average size of the study-area census-block groups achieves a desirable optimum trade-off between privacy protection and accuracy of results. The study shows that implementing appropriate geographical masks may help data managers or researchers establish the desirable trade-off, in a particular context, between privacy protection and accuracy of geographic information.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)15-28
Number of pages14
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Accuracy
  • Disaggregate data
  • Geographical masks
  • Geoprivacy
  • Lung cancer deaths
  • Privacy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes


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