The Differential Privacy of Bayesian Inference


Shijie Zheng. 2015. The Differential Privacy of Bayesian Inference. Bachelor's thesis, Harvard College. DASH Version


Differential privacy is one recent framework for analyzing and quantifying the amount of privacy lost when data is released. Meanwhile, multiple imputation is an existing Bayesian-inference based technique from statistics that learns a model using real data, then releases synthetic data by drawing from that model. Because multiple imputation does not directly release any real data, it is generally believed to protect privacy.

In this thesis, we examine that claim. While there exist newer synthetic data algorithms specifically designed to provide differential privacy, we evaluate whether multiple imputation already includes differential privacy for free. Thus, we focus on several method variants for releasing the learned model and releasing the synthetic data, and how these methods perform for models taking on two common distributions: the Bernoulli and the Gaussian with known variance. 

We prove a number of new or improved bounds on the amount of privacy afforded by multiple imputation for these distributions. We find that while differential privacy is ostensibly achievable for most of our method variants, the conditions needed for it to do so are often not realistic for practical usage. At least in theory, this is particularly true if we want absolute privacy (ε-differential privacy), but that the methods are more practically compatible with privacy when we allow a small probability of a catastrophic data leakage ((ε, δ)-differential privacy).
Last updated on 07/31/2019