Your Data Were ‘Anonymized’? These Scientists Can Still Identify You

“Very quickly, with a few bits of information, everyone is unique,” stated Dr. Erlich.

One attainable answer is to manage entry. Those who need to use delicate knowledge — medical information, for instance — must entry them in a safe room. The knowledge can be utilized however not copied, and no matter is completed with the knowledge should be recorded.

Researchers can also get to the knowledge remotely, however “there are very strict requirements for the room where the access point is installed,” stated Kamel Gadouche, chief govt of a analysis knowledge heart in France, C.A.S.D., which depends on these strategies.

The heart holds data on 66 million people, together with tax and medical knowledge, supplied by governments and universities. “We are not restricting access,” Mr. Gadouche stated. “We are controlling access.”

But there’s a downside to restricted entry. If a scientist submits a analysis paper to a journal, for instance, others would possibly need to verify the outcomes through the use of the information — a problem if the information weren’t freely obtainable.

Other concepts embrace one thing known as “secure multiparty computation.”

“It’s a cryptographic trick,” Dr. Erlich stated. “Suppose you want to compute the average salary for both or us. I don’t want to tell you my salary and you don’t want to tell me yours.”

So, he stated, encrypted data is exchanged that’s unscrambled by a pc.

“In theory, it works great,” stated Dr. Erlich. But for scientific analysis, the tactic has limits. If the top outcome appears unsuitable, “you cannot debug it, because everything is so secure you can’t see the raw data.”

The information gathered on all of us won’t ever be utterly personal, he added: “You cannot reduce risk to zero.”

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