Latanya Sweeney

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Latanya Sweeney
Latanya Sweeney at a Knight News Challenge event in New York City, November 2017.jpg
Professor Sweeney takes part in a panel discussion in New York City, November 2017.
Alma materHarvard University
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Known fork-anonymity
Scientific career
FieldsComputer Science
InstitutionsHarvard University, Carnegie Mellon University

Latanya Arvette Sweeney is a Professor of the Practice of Government and Technology at Harvard University, the Director of the Data Privacy Lab in the Institute of Quantitative Social Science (IQSS) at Harvard, and the Faculty Dean in Currier House at Harvard.[1] She formerly served as the Chief Technologist of the Federal Trade Commission, a position she held from January 2014 until December 2014.[2][3] She has made several contributions to privacy technology. Her best known academic work is on the theory of k-anonymity and she is credited with the observation that "87% of the U.S. population is uniquely identified by date of birth, gender, postal code."[4]


Sweeney went to Dana Hall Schools in Wellesley, MA, where she received her high school diploma in 1977. She delivered the valedictory at the graduation ceremony.[5]

In 2001, she was awarded PhD in computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where she became the first African American woman to earn a PhD in computer science from that school.[6] Her undergraduate degree in computer science was completed at Harvard University.[7]

Career and research[edit]

In 2001, Sweeney became director and founder of the Data Privacy Lab, at Carnegie Mellon University. She was a member of the Program Committee for Modeling Decisions for Artificial Intelligence (MDAI) in 2005. In 2004, she founded the Journal of Privacy Technology, later becoming the editor-in-chief in 2006.[8]

Early publication and challenges[edit]

In 1997, Sweeney conducted her first re-identification experiment wherein she successfully identified then Massachusetts governor, William Weld to his medical records using publicly accessible records. Her results had a significant impact on privacy centered policymaking including the health privacy legislation HIPAA, however publication of the experiment was rejected twenty times. The several re-identification experiments she conducted after this were met with serious publication challenges as well. In fact, a court ruling in Southern Illinoisian v. Department of Public Health barred her from publication and sharing of her methods for a successful re-identification experiment. Fear of publicly exposing a serious issue with no known solution fueled majority of the backlash against publication of her works and similar re-identification experiments for over a decade. Unless experiments concluded that no risk existed or that the issue could be resolved through reasonable technological advancement, publication was largely denied.

In her article “Only You, Your Doctor, and Many Others May Know,”[9] writer Latanya Sweeney discusses her research project in which she located and matched up identities and personal health records through a number of methods. Such methods, as she explains in depth later on, include looking at public health records from hospitals and newspaper stories. Towards the end of the article, Sweeney touches upon the different approaches of how she analyzed and matched the data, either through using computer programs or human effort. She then makes the conclusion that new and improved methods of data sharing are necessary.[10]

Data Privacy Lab[edit]

Since 2011 Sweeney's Data Privacy Lab has been conducting research about data privacy at Harvard.[11] It intends to provide a cross-disciplinary perspective about privacy in the process of disseminating data.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Latanya Sweeney". Harvard Business School Digital Initiative. Retrieved 2019-11-21.
  2. ^ "FTC Names Latanya Sweeney as Chief Technologist; Andrea Matwyshyn as Policy Advisor". Federal Trade Commission. November 18, 2013. Retrieved August 6, 2014.
  3. ^ "Hello world! | Federal Trade Commission". Retrieved 2016-03-22.
  4. ^ L. Sweeney. "Simple Demographics Often Identify People Uniquely (Data Privacy Working Paper 3) Pittsburgh 2000" (PDF). Carnegie Mellon University. Retrieved 18 January 2014.
  5. ^ "Dr. Latanya Sweeney, Curriculum Vitae". Retrieved 2017-10-24.
  6. ^ "New faculty deans appointed". Harvard Gazette. 9 May 2016. Retrieved 2016-06-06.
  7. ^ "Biographical sketches of Latanya Sweeney". Data Privacy Lab, Harvard University. Retrieved 18 January 2014.
  8. ^ "Biographical sketches of Latanya Sweeney, Ph.D." Retrieved 2017-10-24.
  9. ^ Sweeney, Latanya. "Only You, Your Doctor, and Many Others May Know". Technology Science – via
  10. ^ Sweeney, Latanya (2015-09-29). "Only You, Your Doctor, and Many Others May Know". Technology Science.
  11. ^ "Dr. Latanya Sweeney's Home Page". Retrieved 2017-10-24.

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]