Algorithm can identify 99.98% of users in supposedly "anonymized" data

In The New York Times, Gina Kolata writes that a team of scientists has proven a method of identifying specific individuals from "anonymous" data sets.

Scientists at Imperial College London and Université Catholique de Louvain, in Belgium, reported in the journal Nature Communications that they had devised a computer algorithm that can identify 99.98 percent of Americans from almost any available data set with as few as 15 attributes, such as gender, ZIP code or marital status.

Even more surprising, the scientists posted their software code online for anyone to use. That decision was difficult, said Yves-Alexandre de Montjoye, a computer scientist at Imperial College London and lead author of the new paper.

They had to publish because to do the research is to realize that criminals and governments already did the research.