Public health datasets increasingly use geographic identifiers such as an individual’s address. Geocoding these addresses often provides new insights since it becomes possible to examine spatial patterns and associations. Address information is typically considered confidential and is therefore not released or shared with others. Publishing maps with the locations of individuals, however, may also breach confidentiality since addresses and associated identities can be discovered through reverse geocoding. One commonly used technique to protect confidentiality when releasing individual-level geocoded data is geographic masking. This typically consists of applying a certain amount of random perturbation in a systematic manner to reduce the risk of reidentification. A number of geographic masking techniques have been developed as well as methods to quantity the risk of reidentification associated with a particular masking method. This paper presents a review of the current state-of-the-art in geographic masking, summarizing the various methods and their strengths and weaknesses. Despite recent progress, no universally accepted or endorsed geographic masking technique has emerged. Researchers on the other hand are publishing maps using geographic masking of confidential locations. Any researcher publishing such maps is advised to become familiar with the different masking techniques available and their associated reidentification risks.
Zandbergen, P. A. (2014). Ensuring Confidentiality of Geocoded Health Data: Assessing Geographic Masking Strategies for Individual-Level Data. Advances in Medicine, 2014, 1–14. https://doi.org/10.1155/2014/567049