Anonymizing Personal Data is Not Enough to Protect Privacy: Research

In a recent study at Imperial College London, researchers have found that even if your data is anonymized, you are still at risk of being re-identified.

Your personal information such as your browser history, online transactions, credit scores, and health care information is supposed to stay anonymous. But according to this new research, unmasking these datasets might be easier than you think.

The researchers have published a tool that demonstrates how easily you can be traced, even if you are completely anonymous and just a small fraction of these datasets is shared.

With only 15 demographic attributes and with a bit of AI machine learning, the researchers said that “99.98% of Americans would be correctly re-identified in any dataset.”

Co-author Dr. Luc Rocher of UCLouvain said:

While there might be a lot of people who are in their thirties, male, and living in New York City, far fewer of them were also born on 5 January, are driving a red sports car, and live with two kids (both girls) and one dog.

These results show how easily you can be traced back using your “anonymous” datasets. An attacker could easily estimate the likelihood of records belonging to the person they’re looking for.

The whole purpose of anonymization is to protect user privacy. It is essential that anonymization standards should be robust and should never come as an expense to users’ privacy. Policymakers should protect its users from potential attacks, which could significantly jeopardize our careers and personal lives.

Source: Imperial College London 

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