Is Privacy Algorithmically Impossible?

MIT Technology Reviewwhat.is_.personal.data2x519: “In 1995, the European Union introduced privacy legislation that defined “personal data” as any information that could identify a person, directly or indirectly. The legislators were apparently thinking of things like documents with an identification number, and they wanted them protected just as if they carried your name.

Today, that definition encompasses far more information than those European legislators could ever have imagined—easily more than all the bits and bytes in the entire world when they wrote their law 18 years ago.

Here’s what happened. First, the amount of data created each year has grown exponentially (see figure)…

Much of this data is invisible to people and seems impersonal. But it’s not. What modern data science is finding is that nearly any type of data can be used, much like a fingerprint, to identify the person who created it: your choice of movies on Netflix, the location signals emitted by your cell phone, even your pattern of walking as recorded by a surveillance camera. In effect, the more data there is, the less any of it can be said to be private. We are coming to the point that if the commercial incentives to mine the data are in place, anonymity of any kind may be “algorithmically impossible,” says Princeton University computer scientist Arvind Narayanan.”

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