domingo, 5 de mayo de 2013

Professor Re-Identifies Anonymous Individuals From DNA Database - iHealthBeat

Professor Re-Identifies Anonymous Individuals From DNA Database - iHealthBeat

Professor Re-Identifies Anonymous Individuals From DNA Database

A Harvard University professor has re-identified several individuals based on anonymized information in the Personal Genome Project's database, Forbes reports.
About the Genome Project
The Personal Genome Project was established by George Church, a genetics professor at Harvard Medical School. More than 2,500 individuals have participated in the project by submitting their DNA and personal information to help researchers learn about certain health conditions.
Before being allowed to participate in the project, individuals must take an online exam about the risks they face.
A 24-page consent letter notes that information provided by participants "may be used, on its own or in combination with your previously shared data, to identify you as a participant in otherwise private and/or confidential research."
How Individuals Were Re-Identified
To demonstrate the risks of making personal data available online, Latanya Sweeney -- a professor and director of the Data Privacy Lab at Harvard -- and research assistants analyzed available data on 1,130 Personal Genome Project participants.
Of those 1,130 participants, 579 provided three key pieces of information for the database:
  • Date of birth;
  • Gender; and
  • ZIP code.
By combining those three pieces of data with public records, such as voter rolls, researchers were able to identify many of the previously anonymous participants. Of the 579 participants who provided the three pieces of data, Sweeney correctly named 241, or 42%, of them.
Recommendations for Protecting Privacy
Sweeney has set up a website -- -- that allows consumers to determine how easily they could be identified based on their date of birth, gender and ZIP code.
She said the site "allows us to show the vulnerabilities and to show that [individuals] can be identified by name." However, she added, "Vulnerabilities exist, but there are solutions too."
Sweeney noted that research participants could reduce their risk of re-identification by submitting slightly less information to medical databases, such as providing their birth year instead of their full birth date (Tanner, Forbes, 4/25).

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