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In this paper, we propose the first formal privacy analysis of a data anonymization process known as the synthetic data generation, a technique becoming popular in the statistics community. The target application for this work is a mapping program that shows the commuting patterns of the population of the United States. The source data for this application were collected by the U.S. Census Bureau, but due to privacy constraints, they cannot be used directly by the mapping program. Instead, we generate synthetic data that statistically mimic the original data while providing privacy guarantees. We use these synthetic data as a surrogate for the original data. We find that while some existing definitions of privacy are inapplicable to our target application, others are too conservative and render the synthetic data useless since they guard against privacy breaches that are very unlikely. Moreover, the data in our target application is sparse, and none of the existing solutions are tailored to anonymize sparse data. In this paper, we propose solutions to address the above issues.
Date of Conference: 7-12 April 2008