Protecting Privacy in Genomic Databases

A recent announcement from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and Indiana University at Bloomington describes a process that permits database queries for genome-wide association studies but reduces the chances of privacy compromises to almost zero.

The new system, implements a technique called “differential privacy,” which has been a major area of cryptographic research in recent years. Differential-privacy techniques add a little bit of noise, or random variation, to the results of database searches, to confound algorithms that would seek to extract private information from the results of several, tailored, sequential searches.

You can read more in an announcement from the MIT News Office at http://news.mit.edu/2016/protecting-privacy-genomic-databases-0809.

This process is used only for protecting medical research information involving large numbers of people but not for protecting genealogy data of individuals. I don’t see much application for genealogy databases at this time but any progress in protecting DNA information and increasing privacy is welcome.

2 Comments

This may not be very relevant to today’s article, but I have a question/request: I have considered doing the “DNA” test, but I am not certain what it would tell me. Could you do an article (or refer me to one) as to what I would learn if I did one (such as I think Ancestry and some other web sites offer). I am an only child and know all my first cousins (who would probably never do such a test). Thank you–your articles are great!

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