The Common Data Project at the Open Knowledge Conference

April 19th, 2010 by The Common Data Project

We’ll be at the Open Knowledge Conference in London on April 24th!  Alex Selkirk will be giving a lightning talk, “Can We Have Our Cake and Eat It Too?: The Potential of a “Datatrust” to Open Personal Data While Protecting Privacy.”  He’ll walk through an updated version of our datatrust demo that shows how differential privacy, in the form of PINQ, could be used to allow open-ended queries without revealing the presence of any one individual.  (The updated version isn’t available yet, but for a look at the first version of the demo, The updated version isn’t quite complete, but for a description of how the old one worked, check out Tony Gibbon’s blog post here.)

All of us here have been wrestling with the demo and how it could be used in real-world scenarios.  We’ve

  • Described the basic principles of differential privacy behind PINQ;
  • Illustrated a demo of PINQ;
  • Outlined what would go into a datatrust prototype; and
  • Imagined how PINQ would enable Census data to be open in new ways.

One of the biggest challenges is defining PINQ’s privacy guarantee for real-world use.  We’ve addressed that in these posts:

And there’s still more to come on that…

We’re really excited to be able to share what we’ve been wrestling with for the last couple of months with the people at the Open Knowledge Conference, who are all invested in open knowledge, “any content, information or data that people are free to use, re-use and redistribute — without any legal, technological or social restriction.”

We also look forward to hearing what others are doing to make information more publicly available.  We’re particularly interested in the panel on community driven research, as well as the multi-national panel on opening up government data.  It’s a great opportunity to hear from experts working on open government issues from a European perspective.  In all the talk of open government and transparency, we don’t hear much about how governments are going to deal with privacy issues, despite the fact that much of what governments collect is very personal.  We hope to hear about how these experts are dealing with these issues, especially given that the European understand of privacy seems to be very different from the American one, as evidenced by the Italian Google case.

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