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Professor Re-Identifies DNA Study Volunteers

GENETIC PRIVACY—U.S.

April 29, 2013

Working with her research assistant and two students, Harvard Data Privacy Lab Director Prof. Latanya Sweeney scraped data on anonymous volunteers who shared their DNA with the Personal Genome Project, re-identifying more than 40 percent of the sample, Forbes reports. Profiles of anonymous participants include information on medical conditions, illegal drug use, alcoholism, depression, sexually transmitted disease and medications, as well as DNA sequences, the report states, noting Sweeney’s team was able to discern identity from ZIP code, date of birth and gender “combined with information from voter rolls or other public records.” Sweeney has set up a website to help individuals determine how easily they could be identified by entering those three pieces of information.
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