Efficient Discovery of De-identification Policies Through a Risk-Utility Frontier

CODASPY. 2013:2013:59-70. doi: 10.1145/2435349.2435357.


Modern information technologies enable organizations to capture large quantities of person-specific data while providing routine services. Many organizations hope, or are legally required, to share such data for secondary purposes (e.g., validation of research findings) in a de-identified manner. In previous work, it was shown de-identification policy alternatives could be modeled on a lattice, which could be searched for policies that met a prespecified risk threshold (e.g., likelihood of re-identification). However, the search was limited in several ways. First, its definition of utility was syntactic - based on the level of the lattice - and not semantic - based on the actual changes induced in the resulting data. Second, the threshold may not be known in advance. The goal of this work is to build the optimal set of policies that trade-off between privacy risk (R) and utility (U), which we refer to as a R-U frontier. To model this problem, we introduce a semantic definition of utility, based on information theory, that is compatible with the lattice representation of policies. To solve the problem, we initially build a set of policies that define a frontier. We then use a probability-guided heuristic to search the lattice for policies likely to update the frontier. To demonstrate the effectiveness of our approach, we perform an empirical analysis with the Adult dataset of the UCI Machine Learning Repository. We show that our approach can construct a frontier closer to optimal than competitive approaches by searching a smaller number of policies. In addition, we show that a frequently followed de-identification policy (i.e., the Safe Harbor standard of the HIPAA Privacy Rule) is suboptimal in comparison to the frontier discovered by our approach.

Keywords: De-identification; Experimentation; Management; Optimization; Policy; Privacy; Security.