G. Cormode, T. Kulkarni, and D. Srivastava. Constrained differential privacy for count data. In International Conference on Data Engineering (ICDE), 2018.

Concern about how to aggregate sensitive user data without compromising individual privacy is a major barrier to greater availability of data. The model of differential privacy has emerged as an accepted model to release sensitive information while giving a statistical guarantee for privacy. Many different algorithms are possible to address different target functions. We focus on the core problem of count queries, and seek to design mechanisms to release data associated with a group of n individuals. Prior work has focused on designing mechanisms by raw optimization of a loss function, without regard to the consequences on the results. This can leads to mechanisms with undesirable properties, such as never reporting some outputs (gaps), and overreporting others (spikes). We tame these pathological behaviors by introducing a set of desirable properties that mechanisms can obey. Any combination of these can be satisfied by solving a linear program (LP) which minimizes a cost function, with constraints enforcing the properties. We focus on a particular cost function, and provide explicit constructions that are optimal for certain combinations of properties, and show a closed form for their cost. In the end, there are only a handful of distinct optimal mechanisms to choose between: one is the well-known (truncated) geometric mechanism; the second a novel mechanism that we introduce here, and the remainder are found as the solution to particular LPs. These all avoid the bad behaviors we identify. We demonstrate in a set of experiments on real and synthetic data which is preferable in practice, for different combinations of data distributions, constraints, and privacy parameters.

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