Understanding Differential Privacy

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Differential privacy makes it possible for tech companies to collect and share aggregate information about user habits, while maintaining the privacy of individual users.

Differential Privacy permits:

  • Companies access a large number of sensitive data for researching and business without privacy breach.
  • Research institutions can develop differential privacy technology to automate privacy processes within cloud-sharing communities across countries. Thus, they could protect the privacy of users and resolve data sharing problem.

2 types of information of an individual is available:

  • General information is any information, what doesn’t specific to any individual data subject. General information can be understood is the information of the entire population in the data (not only an individual or a group of data subjects).
  • The contrast of general information is private information, what specifics to any individual data subject.

To understand this, let’s consider a scenario when you, a smoker, decided to be included in a survey. Then, analysis on the survey data reveals that smoking causes cancer. Will you, as a smoker, be harmed by the analysis? Perhaps — Based on the fact that you’re a smoker, one may guess at your health status. It is certainly the case that he knows more about you after the study than was known before (this is also the reason behind saying it is “general information”, not “public information”), but was your information leaked? Differential privacy will take the view that it was not, with the rationale that the impact on the smoker is the same independent of whether or not he was in the study. It is the conclusions reached in the study that affect the smoker, not his presence or absence in the data set.

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