ACS hackathon produces world-first prototype data sharing solution

| March 16, 2019

A directed hackathon hosted and organised by ACS has produced a world-first prototype solution for safe data sharing.

The hackathon was an attempt to answer the question: how do we safely share data between organisations without compromising the privacy of individuals?

It follows a white paper released in November by ACS, Privacy in Data Sharing – A Guide for Business and Government, which posited a framework for safe data sharing.

“Data sharing is one of the hardest problems we have to solve today,” said NSW Chief Data Scientist and primary author of the white paper, Dr Ian Oppermann. “How do we get those smart services, and how do we usefully share data with researchers, without compromising the privacy of individuals?”

The challenge of data sharing was highlighted in 2016, when the Federal Government released a de-identified set of medical data for use by researchers in tracking and developing solutions to medical problems. Although the records in the dataset had been anonymised by stripping identity information, researchers were able to cross reference data to reveal the owners of individual records.

“Today we have hundreds of data sets being combined with each other,” said Dr Oppermann. “In that scenario, it can become easy for records to be re-identified. That’s why, over the course of two years, the ACS Data Sharing Committee has developed a theoretical test for the presence of personally identifying data.

“We wanted to put that theory to the test, which is what this hackathon was all about – developing a practical application for identifying the presence of personally identifying information in a data set. If you can do that, then you can reveal whether data is safe to share.”

The hackathon involved eight teams of three people competing against each other to develop a practical solution that would reveal the amount of personally identifying information in a dataset and allow the data to be adjusted to obscure that information. Through three rounds teams were eliminated from the competition and their ideas and team members incorporated into the winners of each round.

The winners of the competition were:  ‘Led Zeppelin’, a team comprising Geof Heydon, Artem Kamnev, Dominic Guinane, Elliot Zhu, Oisin Fitzgerald, Stephen Katulka and Viki Ginoska produced a prototype application that allowed a data custodian to visualise and adjust the amount of personally identifying information in a dataset.

“We’re really excited to have had the chance to work on such an important project,” said team member Mr Heydon. “It’s an incredibly valuable thing. As more and more smart city and digital economy things happen at the local and state government level, there needs to be much more of an understanding of how to handle data.

“This kind of work is absolutely critical in the smart city context, in the internet of things context, in the artificial intelligence context, in the digital economy context.”

The event was hosted at ACS’ Barangaroo offices in Sydney, and a cash prize given to the winning team.

“This really is a world first,” said ACS President Yohan Ramasundara. “This is something that researchers and data scientists around the world have been working on for years, and cracking this is a huge step on the way to enabling government and businesses to share data safely without compromising the privacy of individuals.”

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