Challenges in Deploying Anonymization Technologies

6. September 2023

Introduction

Technologies that anonymize sensitive data, such as faces and license plate numbers, are not just add-ons or nice to have but rather essential tools for companies committed to respecting user privacy. However, often when deploying anonymization technologies there will arise certain technical challenges that need to be considered.

1. Data Integrity

Data integrity refers to the accuracy, consistency, and reliability of data throughout its life cycle. Maintaining data integrity is essential for ensuring that you extract the highest possible value from your data, for example for improving product quality or building cutting-edge technologies.
Anonymization often involves stripping data of identifiable characteristics. While this achieves the privacy goal, it can reduce the dataset’s overall utility. For instance, over-blurring an image could render it useless for any subsequent analytics. Simply put this means, removing personal information is easy but making sure the data stays useful is challenging.
While the aim is to protect privacy, poorly implemented anonymization could lead to a false sense of security. Artificial intelligence solutions are often black box models that are hard to validate. Especially in computer vision, making sure that your anonymization technologies performs well across data recorded with different sensors and in various environments is not an easy task. Understanding the data distribution, avoiding overfitting or managing edge-case scenarios are only a few of the aspects that require deep know-how and a large amount of resources.

2. Algorithmic Bias

At the heart of many anonymization technologies are algorithms, which are not immune to biases. Algorithmic bias can make these technologies less reliable and could lead to unequal or even discriminatory outcomes in terms of privacy protection.

If the algorithm has been trained on a dataset that lacks diversity—say, it includes mostly faces from a particular ethnic group—it might have difficulties to effectively anonymize faces from other ethnic groups. This is equally true for other characteristics like age or gender.

3. Scalability: Adapting to Growing Data Needs

Scalability is often the biggest issue that companies face both when they’re anonymizing in-house but often also when they’re outsourcing it. This is mainly due to: computational costs, consistency across data sources and system integration.

Firstly, anonymization processes often involve complex algorithms that require substantial computational power. As data grows, these costs can escalate, posing challenges for companies that may not have anticipated such expenditures.

Secondly, businesses often integrate data from multiple sources. As they scale, ensuring that the anonymization algorithms work consistently and effectively across all these different types of data becomes challenging.

Last, as a business grows, its technology stack becomes more complex. Ensuring that the anonymization process integrates seamlessly with existing systems, databases, and software platforms is crucial for effective scalability.

Conclusion

Deploying anonymizing technologies comes with various technological challenges such as ensuring data integrity and scalability and preventing algorithmic bias. Yet due to increasing regulatory and societal pressure, companies have to implement these technologies in order to make use of the large amounts of data they collect.

While companies often already possess expertise in various domains like legal issues, computer science, and data ethics, integrating these perspectives is critical for implementing a robust, scalable, and fair anonymization solution.

Often the most efficient way is to partner with specialized anonymization technology providers. These experts can offer tailored solutions that not only help you navigate the intricate landscape of data privacy regulations but also address challenges related to data integrity, algorithmic bias, and scalability.

Luke Effenberger
Consultant AI
luke.effenberger@brighter.ai