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

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

One potential resolution is to regulate entry. Those who need to use delicate knowledge — medical data, 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 have to 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,” mentioned Kamel Gadouche, chief working officer of a French knowledge heart, the Certification Agency for Scientific Code and Data, which depends on these strategies.

The company holds data on 66 million people, together with tax and medical knowledge, supplied by governments and universities. “We are not restricting access,” Mr. Gadouche mentioned. “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 by utilizing the information — a problem if the information weren’t freely out there.

Other concepts embody one thing referred to as “secure multiparty computation.”

“It’s a cryptographic trick,” Dr. Erlich mentioned. “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 mentioned, encrypted data is exchanged that’s unscrambled by a pc.

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

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

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