Seminar: Debate on Anonymisation

Time: 14:00 - 16:00

Venue: Room 3.009 Alliance Manchester Business school, Booth Street West, Manchester, M5 6PB

Debate on Anonymisation with Yves Montjoye, Paul Comerford, Mark Elliot, Natalie Shlomo, Keith Spicer & Magnus Rattray

Debate Proposition: “Data can either be useful or anonymised but never both.”

This session will be something of a departure from the usual DSI seminar format.

Much of the data that data scientists work with is about, or concerns, people. Therefore, legal compliance and best ethical practice is crucial to ensure that we meet confidentiality assurances privacy impact is minimised. Anonymisation is one approach to dealing with these issues. However, its reliability, value and even its definition are hotly contested.

We have therefore arranged this debate between four speakers; each with their own view of what anonymisation is and how useful it is in our increasingly complex data environment. Paul Comerford from the Information Commissioner’s Office will summarise the debate before the audience votes on the debate proposition.

  • Moderator/chair: Magnus Ratray(University of Manchester)
  • Speaker 1: Yves de Montjoye (Imperial College London)
  • Speaker 2: Keith Spicer (Office for National Statistics)
  • Speaker 3: Natalie Shlomo (University of Manchester)
  • Speaker 4: Mark Elliot (University of Manchester)
  • Concluding remarks: Paul Comerford (Information Commissioners Office)


Introduction by the moderator

1: Opening statements (The four speakers) 40 minutes

Each speaker makes a 8-10 minute opening statement

2: Rejoinders 10-20 minutes

Each then replies to the others’ statements and asks questions of others. 2-4 minutes each.

3: Open discussion 45 minutes

The audience enters the debate; speakers go to panel mode.

4: Concluding remarks (Paul Comerford): 5-10 minutes

5: Vote 5 minutes

The Audience will then vote on the proposition.

Yves-Alexandre de Monjoye:

Yves-Alexandre de Montjoye is an Assistant Professor (Lecturer) at Imperial College London where he heads the Computational Privacy Group and a Special Adviser to EC Competition Commissioner Vestager. He is also a research affiliate at MIT where he received his PhD from in 2015. His research aims at understanding how the unicity of human behavior impacts the privacy of individuals--through re-identification or inference--in rich high-dimensional datasets such as mobile phone, credit cards, or browsing data. Yves-Alexandre was recently named an Innovator under 35 for Belgium (TR35). His research has been published in Science and Nature SRep. and covered by the BBC, CNN, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Harvard Business Review. His work on the shortcomings of anonymization has appeared in reports of the World Economic Forum, United Nations, OECD, FTC, and the European Commission. Yves-Alexandre worked for the Boston Consulting Group and acted as an expert for both the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the United Nations. He obtained, over a period of 6 years, an M.Sc. from Louvain in Applied Mathematics, a M.Sc. (Centralien) from Ecole Centrale Paris, a M.Sc. from KULeuven in Mathematical Engineering as well as his B.Sc. in engineering at Louvain.

Paul Comerford: 

Paul previously worked in academia as a Computer Networks and Cyber security lecturer at a number of universities. He joined the ICO in 2018 as part of the Technology team. His duties include internal advice and writing data protection guidance for external organisation. He is currently leading work on replacing the anonymisation code of practice with new anonymisation guidance for the GDPR.

Mark Elliot:

Mark Elliot has worked at the University of Manchester since 1996, where he currently holds a chair in data science. His research is focused on the topics of data privacy and anonymisation. He founded the international recognised Confidentiality and Privacy Research Group (CAPRI) in 2002, and has run numerous research projects within the CAPRI remit. He leads the UK Anonymisation Network and is one of the key international researchers in the field of Statistical Disclosure and has an extensive portfolio of research grants and publications in the field. Professor Elliot has extensive experience in collaboration with non-academic partners, particularly with national statistical agencies (e.g. Office for National Statistics, US Bureau of the Census, Australian Bureau of Statistics, Statistics Singapore) where he has been a key influence on disclosure control methodology used in censuses and surveys and where the SUDA software, he developed in collaboration with colleagues in Computer Science at Manchester, is currently employed.