[@OKau] data science meetup sydney

Steve Bennett stevage at gmail.com
Thu Oct 22 12:27:12 UTC 2015

Hi Rosie,
  Yeah, it's an interesting issue - and that's hardly the first time that's
happened. My, somewhat conservative, approach is: there's no such thing as
an anonymised person-level dataset. I discourage government bodies from
trying to release such a thing, because I think the potential damage far
outweighs the benefits. There is a lot of juicier low hanging fruit with no

Or if they really want to release that data, they should aggregate it.
There are plenty of experts who know a lot about all the different ways you
can aggregate data to preserve privacy. (Spacetime Research have products
that do this.)


On Wed, Oct 21, 2015 at 1:08 PM, Rosie Williams <budgetaus at hotmail.com>

> My latest blog post
> https://openaus.net.au/blog/2015/10/21/data-science-for-social-good/Data-Science
> for social good
> October 21, 2015
> | No Comments
> <https://openaus.net.au/blog/2015/10/21/data-science-for-social-good//#comments>
> This morning I attended a new  data science meetup
> <http://www.meetup.com/The-Sydney-Data-Science-Breakfast-Meetup-Group/events/226071090/> in
> the CBD. The organiser had contacted me regarding presenting OpenAus and
> mentioned he thought the meetup might help foster collaborations between
> data scientists and those interested social change.
> The subject of presentation at this morning’s meetup was privacy. As it
> turns out the presentation has direct implications for open data. Earlier
> in the year, presenter & organiser Anthony Tockar had sparked a number of
> news articles when he used American taxi-cab meta data to track taxi-routes
> of a couple of celebrities- an exercise which caught the attention of the
> media
> <http://gawker.com/the-public-nyc-taxicab-database-that-accidentally-track-1646724546>
> .
> In the US, data held by public companies is subject to FOI law and someone
> had made a request for taxi-cab data
> <http://research.neustar.biz/2014/09/15/riding-with-the-stars-passenger-privacy-in-the-nyc-taxicab-dataset/>.
> Anthony used this data to demonstrate that it is possible to ‘de-identify’
> a single user in a huge data-set. Anthony explains his reasons and
> methodology here
> <http://research.neustar.biz/2014/09/15/riding-with-the-stars-passenger-privacy-in-the-nyc-taxicab-dataset/> and
> raises important issues for privacy, especially in the open data community.
> Our ability for the government or any other organisation to make data
> available for re-use relies on how successful we are as a society at
> anonymising that data. Ensuring privacy for individuals is one of the
> concerns of government agencies in decisions to release data. This issue
> doesn’t apply to all data sets, only those that deal with person-level data
> such as those based on the Census that form the basis of so much ABS data.
> There are methods used by the ABS to de-anonymise data but there is also
> concern that this is not always enough to prevent individuals from being
> identified through that data.
> Anthony brought up the potential solution of ‘differential privacy’. This
> term describes an algorithm that can be applied to queries on data when it
> is accessed at a person level such that it obscures the data enough (you
> get to set the level yourself) to prevent de-anonymising that data.
> Aggregate queries are unaffected so you get a way to interact with the data
> on an aggregate level (totals, averages etc), but when you attempt to
> access this data at a person level, the algorithm slightly scrambles the
> data so that it is not accurate enough to figure out which individual the
> data describes.
> You can read more about how this works at this blog post
> <http://research.neustar.biz/2014/09/15/riding-with-the-stars-passenger-privacy-in-the-nyc-taxicab-dataset/>.
> The ensuing discussion about open data, privacy and the need for privacy
> law to keep up with our ability to create and store data is a pressing one.
> It also begs the question of why it is that when so much is now at stake in
> terms of protecting the privacy of individuals, the Office of the
> Information Commissioner (responsible for keeping abreast of and informing
> policy on such issues) is hanging on by a thread
> <http://www.oaic.gov.au/news-and-events/statements/operational-statements/acting-australian-information-commissioner-s-term-extended>
> ?
> [image: oaic]
> <https://openaus.net.au/blog/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/oaic1.png>
> Privacy is a cost to business and there is not a lot of appetite to harden
> up rules in favour of protecting the rights of citizens. If we do not have
> a properly funded and independent Information Commissioner it is hard to
> understand how citizen rights and the issues affecting them are likely to
> be upheld?
> Rosie Williams BA (Sociology)
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