By John D. Cook
In 1997, Latanya Sweeney dramatically demonstrated that supposedly anonymized data was not anonymous. The state of Massachusetts had released data on 135,000 state employees and their families with obvious identifiers removed. However, the data contained zip code, birth date, and sex for each individual. Sweeney was able to cross-reference this data with publicly available voter registration data to find the medical records of then-Massachusetts Gov. William Weld.
An estimated 87 percent of Americans can be identified by the combination of zip code, birth date, and sex. A back-of-the-envelope calculation shows that this should not be surprising, but Sweeney appears to be the first to do this calculation and pursue the results. (See such a calculation in the next post.)
In her paper, “Only You, Your Doctor, and Many Others May Know,” Sweeney says that her research was unwelcome. More than 20 journals turned down her paper on the Weld study, and nobody wanted to fund privacy research that might reach uncomfortable conclusions.
A decade ago, funding sources refused to fund Click here to read entire article