Article on the failure of Differential Privacy reaches 1000 views

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On January 9, 2020, MPI-SWS faculty member Paul Francis published the article Dear Differential Privacy: Put Up or Shut Up, on Medium. The article, which has now reached 1000 views, describes the failure of Differential Privacy as the basis for data protection in the Facebook / Social Sciences One project.

The Facebook / Social Sciences One project is an attempt to release Facebook data on URL sharing to researchers so as to better understand the role of Facebook in influencing elections. The project raised 11 million dollars from private funders, and research grants were awarded to twelve research teams around the world. Facebook decided to use Differential Privacy as the means of anonymizing the data. After one year, however, Facebook had not supplied the data. When the funders threatened to pull the funding, Facebook did release a dataset, but the quality of the data was so poor that the proposed research could not be done.

Francis‘ article describes how and why the data release failed, discusses the shortcomings of Differential Privacy, and calls on the privacy research community to expand the scope of what passes for valid data anonymity research.