February 5, 2013

Yahtzee: An Anonymized Group Level Matching Procedure

PLOS One

By: Jason J. Jones, Robert Bond, Christopher J. Fariss, Jaime Settle, Adam D. I. Kramer, Cameron Marlow

Abstract

Researchers often face the problem of needing to protect the privacy of subjects while also needing to integrate data that contains personal information from diverse data sources. The advent of computational social science and the enormous amount of data about people that is being collected makes protecting the privacy of research subjects ever more important.

However, strict privacy procedures can hinder the process of joining diverse sources of data that contain information about specific individual behaviors.

In this paper we present a procedure to keep information about specific individuals from being “leaked” or shared in either direction between two sources of data without need of a trusted third party.

To achieve this goal, we randomly assign individuals to anonymous groups before combining the anonymized information between the two sources of data. We refer to this method as the Yahtzee procedure, and show that it performs as predicted by theoretical analysis when we apply it to data from Facebook and public voter records.