Data Privacy Technologies: From Alchemy to Engineering Discipline

Arvind Narayanan


Established practices for data privacy focus on simplistic data transformations such as the removal of “personally identifiable information.” On the other hand, academia has produced a long line of work on privacy-preserving computation that has yet to be translated into practice. I envision privacy technologies as an engineering discipline grounded in a solid understanding of what technological mechanisms can and cannot do. In this talk I will describe my past, ongoing and planned work towards this goal. The first part of this research program — now nearing completion — is to demonstrate the inadequacy of the current paradigm by developing reidentification and statistical inference algorithms for various types of “anonymized” data: our preferences, transactions, social relationships, and behavior. The second part is to develop an approach to building systems based on lightweight cryptography, a hybrid of centralized and decentralized architectures, and incorporation of policy-based defenses. I will describe how I have applied these principles to my work on location privacy and behavioral ad targeting.


Arvind Narayanan is a post-doctoral computer science researcher at Stanford and a junior affiliate scholar at the Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society. He completed his Ph.D at UT Austin in 2009. Narayanan studies information privacy and security, and moonlights in policy. His paper on deanonymization of large datasets won the 2008 Privacy Enhancing Technologies award and his 2011 paper on location privacy at NDSS won the distinguished paper award.

Time and Place

Feb 21 2012 (Tuesday) at 1630 hrs
Gates 463A