Spiking Genomic Databases with Misinformation Could Protect Patient Privacy

August 17, 2016

(Nature) – Large genomic databases are indispensable for scientists looking for genetic variations associated with diseases. But they come with privacy risks for people who contribute their DNA. A 2013 study showed that hackers could use publicly available information on the Internet to identify people from their anonymized genomic data. To address those concerns, a system developed by Bonnie Berger and Sean Simmons, computer scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, uses an approach called differential privacy. It masks the donor’s identity by adding a small amount of noise, or random variation, to the results it returns on a user’s query. The researchers published their results in the latest issue of Cell Systems.