Latanya Sweeney, director of the Data Privacy Lab at Harvard, has been researching the issue of de-anonymization or re-identification of data for years. In 1998, she explained how a former governor of Massachusetts had his full medical record re-identified by cross-referencing Census information with de-identified health data. Sweeney also found that, with birth date alone, 12 percent of a population of voters can be re-identified. With birth date and gender, that number increases to 29 percent, and with birth date and zip code it increases to 69 percent. In 2000, Sweeney found that 87 percent of the U.S. population could be identified with birth date, gender and zip code. She used 1990 Census data. In 2011, her research reported on the dangers that can arise from the re-identification of “anonymized” medical data, and her advocacy of a “privacy-preserving marketplace” for data.
Now, Forbes reports, a group led by Sweeney has been able to re-identify “more than 40% of a sample of anonymous participants in a high-profile DNA study.”
From the onset, the Personal Genome Project, set up by Harvard Medical School Professor of Genetics George Church, has warned participants of the risk that someone someday could identify them, meaning anyone could look up the intimate medical histories that many have posted along with their genome data. That day arrived on Thursday. Read more »