Your personal data is at stake even if you anonymize it: Research

Written by Faisal Saeed ·  1 min read >

Your data is always at risk.

Researchers from the Imperial College London in a recent study have found that even if your data is anonymized, there is still a huge risk that anyone can re-identify it.

Your personal data including your browser history, online transactions, health care information, and credit scores is that kind of information that needs to stay anonymous. But according to this new research, re-identifying or unmasking these personal data packets is much easier than you think.

The researchers from Imperial College have also published a tool that helps you to find out how easily you can be traced, even if you share only a small amount of details or are completely anonymous. With the help of only 15 demographic attributes and with a bit of AI machine learning, the researchers said that almost 99.98% of Americans would be completely re-identified in any dataset.

The Co-author of UCLouvain Dr. Luc Rocher 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 reveal how easy it is for someone to trace your anonymous data and all your protective measures are useless. An attacker or a hacker could easily estimate the likelihood of records belonging to the person they are looking for. It further reveals that once bought, the private information can often be reverse-engineered using machine learning to re-identify people, despite using anonymization techniques.

Co-author Professor Julien Hendrickx from UCLouvain also said: “We’re often assured that anonymization will keep our personal information safe. Our paper shows that de-identification is nowhere near enough to protect the privacy of people’s data.”

The reason why someone anonymizes their data is to protect their privacy, but if they can be easily hacked there are of no use. It is essential that anonymization standards should be strong and must not come as an expense to the user’s privacy. Policymakers should make sure that they protect its users from potential attacks, which could significantly jeopardize our careers and personal lives.

Via: Imperial College London