Beware of anonymisation


I have such a large back catalogue of blogs pieces now that it is almost certain that some of my predictions and comments come true. Despite this I still get the mild glow of self satisfaction when it happens and so it was when I was reading the Telegraph (you need to read some earlier blogs to understand).

It turns out that research reveals that almost everyone can be identified on ‘anonymised data’.  According to research carried out for Imperial college London and UCLouvain in Belgium, so called ‘anonymised’ databases can be reliably linked back to people’s real identities 99.98 percent of the time.

It was back in September 2017 that I blogged about six degrees of database separation, a reversal of the view that everyone somehow has a relationship with everyone else through six connections. 

‘Just as you can move away from an individual and get to cover the globe through their connections, it must be possible to combine data sets in which information is held about us to hone in on an individual. Each data set will give a different facet, a new perspective on who we are. Cross matching will mean that no individual is unidentifiable. But how many databases? My money is on six.’

This is a new, exciting, and worrying understanding of the power of data. Everyday we are bombarded with requests for personal information through seemingly innocuous surveys. Information about our dull and uninteresting quotidian lives can be stitched together to build a picture of who we are, our preferences or proclivities and, most importantly, how we can be manipulated into buying something or voting in an election.

Nobody is safe. All information is being captured and made available for good or evil intent. The law is too slow to keep up and the global data companies are too big to cope. Indeed they are the ones that have let the toothpaste out of the tube.

It may already be too late. All of our personal data could well be available as long as you have the money to buy it and the intellect to interpret it. Anonymisation provides little, if any defence.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s