Personal Genome Project

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Identifying Participants in the Personal Genome Project by Name

We linked names and contact information to publicly available profiles in the Personal Genome Project. These profiles contain medical and genomic information, including details about medications, procedures and diseases, and demographic information, such as date of birth, gender, and postal code. By linking demographics to public records such as voter lists, and mining for names hidden in attached documents, we correctly identified 84 to 97 percent of the profiles for which we provided names. Our ability to learn their names is based on their demographics, not their DNA, thereby revisiting an old vulnerability that could be easily thwarted with minimal loss of research value. So, we propose technical remedies for people to learn about their demographics to make better decisions.

Sweeney L, Abu A, and Winn J. Identifying Participants in the Personal Genome Project by Name. Harvard University. Data Privacy Lab. White Paper 1021-1. April 24, 2013. (PDF)

PGP Participants  |   Test your demographics

Send our director email at or follow @LatanyaSweeney on twitter.

People (alphabetical)

Akua Abu
Sean Hooley
Latanya Sweeney
Julia Winn

Related Projects in the Data Privacy Lab

Re-identification, Trails
Re-identification, DNA
Genomic Privacy
Genomic System Evaluation
De-identification, Datafly
De-identification, Faces
De-identification, Text
De-identification, Utility

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