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Secured With Noise

By adding to the noise in genomic databases, researchers say they can protect the privacy of people whose genetic information is stored there, Nature News reports.

In a Cell Systems paper, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Simon Fraser University report on a differential privacy approach — drawn from cryptography theory — that adds noise to database query results. That is, Nature News notes, it calculates the response a researcher is looking for and adds random variation to the result. Researchers would also be limited in the number of queries they could make, making it more difficult to determine from which person the data came. And in that way, the authors say genomic databases can be securely queried and be more widely available to researchers.

"It's meant to be used to get access to datasets that you might not have access to otherwise," first author Sean Simmons from MIT says.

Columbia University's Yaniv Erlich tells Nature News that it's "really excellent mathematical work," but he's not sure it's practical, as "people don't like to put noise in their data."

Simmons adds that he's working on improving the approach so that less noise is added while still providing the same level of privacy protection.