IEOR - Designing a More Efficient World

Feasibility of Reidentifying Individuals in Large National Physical Activity Data Sets From Which Protected Health Information Has Been Removed With Use of Machine Learning

Publication Date: December 21, 2018

Liangyuan Na, Cong Yang, Chi-Cheng Lo, Fangyuan Zhao, Yoshimi Fukuoka, Anil Aswani. “Feasibility of Reidentifying Individuals in Large National Physical Activity Data Sets From Which Protected Health Information Has Been Removed With Use of Machine Learning”. JAMA Netw Open. 2018;1(8):e186040. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.6040. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2719130


Importance  Despite data aggregation and removal of protected health information, there is concern that deidentified physical activity (PA) data collected from wearable devices can be reidentified. Organizations collecting or distributing such data suggest that the aforementioned measures are sufficient to ensure privacy. However, no studies, to our knowledge, have been published that demonstrate the possibility or impossibility of reidentifying such activity data.

Objective  To evaluate the feasibility of reidentifying accelerometer-measured PA data, which have had geographic and protected health information removed, using support vector machines (SVMs) and random forest methods from machine learning.