How “Anonymous” is Anonymized Data?

How “Anonymous” is Anonymized Data?

How “Anonymous” is Anonymized Data? As the collection of personal data democratized over the previous century, the question of data anonymization started to rise.

The intent of anonymization is to ensure the privacy of data. Companies use it to protect sensitive data. This category of data encompasses:

  • personal data,
  • business information such as financial information or trade secrets,
  • classified information such as military secrets or governmental information.

So, anonymization is for instance a way of complying with the privacy regulations related to personal data. Personal data and business data types can overlap. This is where lies customer information. But not all business data falls under regulations. I’ll focus here on the protection of personal data.

In Europe, regulators define as “personal data” any information that relates to someone (your name for example). Information linking to a person in any way also falls under that definition.

As the collection of personal data democratized over the previous century, the question of data anonymization started to rise. The regulations coming into effect around the world sealed the importance of the matter.

What is data anonymization and why should we care?

Let’s begin with the classic definition. The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) defines anonymized information as follow:

“_information which does not relate to an identified or identifiable natural person or to personal data rendered anonymous in such a manner that the data subject is not or no longer identifiable._”

The “identifiable” and “no longer” parts are essential. It doesn’t only mean that your name shouldn’t appear in the data anymore. It also means that we shouldn’t be able to figure out who you are from the rest of the data. This refers to the process of re-identification (sometimes de-anonymization).

The same GDPR recital also states a very important fact:

[…] data protection should therefore not apply to anonymous information”.

So, if you manage to anonymize your data, you are no longer subject to GDPR data protection laws.

2020 aug opinions anonymity anonymized compliance privacy data visualization

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