UW Privacy Office

September 19, 2017

New study claims Apple’s ‘differential privacy’ falls short

SOURCE: Wired, September 15, 2017

New study claims Apple’s ‘differential privacy’ falls short.

“FOR THE PAST year, Apple has touted a mathematical tool that it describes as a solution to a paradoxical problem: mining user data while simultaneously protecting user privacy. That secret weapon is “differential privacy,” a novel field of data science that focuses on carefully adding random noise to an individual user’s information before it’s uploaded to the cloud. That way, a company such as Apple’s total dataset reveals meaningful results without any one person’s secrets being spilled.

But differential privacy isn’t a simple toggle switch between total privacy and no-holds-barred invasiveness. And a new study, which delves deeply into how Apple actually implements the technique, suggests the company has ratcheted that dial further toward aggressive data-mining than its public promises imply.”