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Volume IconWhat is data anonymisation?

A top Google executive recently said that large-scale sharing of citizen data - even if it is anonymised - can compromise users' privacy. So what is anonymised data and why has it triggered debate?

ImageAkash Podishetti New Delhi
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Anonymisation of data is a technique where personally identifiable information is removed or encrypted and the data cannot be associated with any one individual. So the data is stripped of personal identifiers, like social security numbers. It helps in protecting user privacy and avoiding the risk of compromising confidential and individual information.  

Data anonymisation helps in evaluation and analysis of large sets of data without compromising on the individual privacy. For instance, anonymised data helps in analysing the direction and health of the economy by tracking high frequency indicators like mobility, power generation, employment among others.

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The draft policy proposes the launch of a non-personal data based India datasets program and addresses the methods and rules to ensure that non-personal and anonymized data from both government and private entities are safely accessible by the research and innovation ecosystem.

The ministry of electronics and information technology came out with a new draft framework for governance of citizen data last month. It proposed ways to ensure that non-personal and anonymised data sets from both government as well as private entities were safely accessible by the research and innovation ecosystem. It also proposed to build and grow such data sets to enable artificial intelligence and data-led start-up ecosystems.

Just days after the government released its draft, Google’s Chief Privacy Officer, Keith Enright, cautioned that frequent and large-scale sharing of citizen data -- even if it is anonymised-- can damage users’ privacy. Pointing to research that shows data sets lose their anonymity if shared consistently over time, he appealed to the policymakers and companies to be extremely circumspect while proceeding in that direction.

"Because we have made auto delete the default setting for all new Google accounts, it means activity data in a month is being automatically deleted for more than 2 billion users every day," said Keith Enright, Chief Privacy Officer, Google.   

Enright also said that giving users control over their data and a sense of safety on the internet was vital. And for this, he said, Google recently offered the ‘auto delete’ feature, which gives users the ability to delete certain data from their account. 

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First Published: Jun 28 2022 | 7:00 AM IST

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