Privacy-preserving Traffic Flow Prediction: A Federated Learning Approach

Yi Liu, James J.Q. Yu*, Jiawen Kang, Dusit Niyato, and Shuyu Zhang
IEEE Internet of Things Journal, Volume 7, Issue 8, Aug. 2020, Pages 7751-7763

Existing traffic flow forecasting approaches by deep learning models achieve excellent success based on a large volume of datasets gathered by governments and organizations. However, these datasets may contain lots of user's private data, which is challenging the current prediction approaches as user privacy is calling for the public concern in recent years. Therefore, how to develop accurate traffic prediction while preserving privacy is a significant problem to be solved, and there is a trade-off between these two objectives. To address this challenge, we introduce a privacy-preserving machine learning technique named federated learning and propose a Federated Learning-based Gated Recurrent Unit neural network algorithm (FedGRU) for traffic flow prediction. FedGRU differs from current centralized learning methods and updates universal learning models through a secure parameter aggregation mechanism rather than directly sharing raw data among organizations. In the secure parameter aggregation mechanism, we adopt a Federated Averaging algorithm to reduce the communication overhead during the model parameter transmission process. Furthermore, we design a Joint Announcement Protocol to improve the scalability of FedGRU. We also propose an ensemble clustering-based scheme for traffic flow prediction by grouping the organizations into clusters before applying FedGRU algorithm. Extensive case studies on a real-world dataset demonstrate that FedGRU can produce predictions that are merely 0.76 km/h worse then the state-of-the-art in terms of mean average error under the privacy preservation constraint, confirming that the proposed model develops accurate traffic predictions without compromising the data privacy.