Benjamin Weggenmann


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The Limits of Word Level Differential Privacy
Justus Mattern | Benjamin Weggenmann | Florian Kerschbaum
Findings of the Association for Computational Linguistics: NAACL 2022

As the issues of privacy and trust are receiving increasing attention within the research community, various attempts have been made to anonymize textual data. A significant subset of these approaches incorporate differentially private mechanims to perturb word embeddings, thus replacing individual words in a sentence. While these methods represent very important contributions, have various advantages over other techniques and do show anonymization capabilities,they have several shortcomings. In this paper, we investigate these weaknesses and demonstrate significant mathematical constraints diminishing the theoretical privacy guaranteeas well as major practical shortcomings with regard to the protection against deanonymization attacks, the preservation of content of the original sentences as well as the quality of the language output. Finally, we propose a new method for text anonymization based on transformer based language models fine-tuned for paraphrasing that circumvents most of the identified weaknesses and also offers a formal privacy guarantee. We evaluate the performance of our method via thourough experimentation and demonstrate superior performance over the discussed mechanisms.

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Differentially Private Language Models for Secure Data Sharing
Justus Mattern | Zhijing Jin | Benjamin Weggenmann | Bernhard Schoelkopf | Mrinmaya Sachan
Proceedings of the 2022 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing

To protect the privacy of individuals whose data is being shared, it is of high importance to develop methods allowing researchers and companies to release textual data while providing formal privacy guarantees to its originators. In the field of NLP, substantial efforts have been directed at building mechanisms following the framework of local differential privacy, thereby anonymizing individual text samples before releasing them. In practice, these approaches are often dissatisfying in terms of the quality of their output language due to the strong noise required for local differential privacy. In this paper, we approach the problem at hand using global differential privacy, particularly by training a generative language model in a differentially private manner and consequently sampling data from it. Using natural language prompts and a new prompt-mismatch loss, we are able to create highly accurate and fluent textual datasets taking on specific desired attributes such as sentiment or topic and resembling statistical properties of the training data. We perform thorough experiments indicating that our synthetic datasets do not leak information from our original data and are of high language quality and highly suitable for training models for further analysis on real-world data. Notably, we also demonstrate that training classifiers on private synthetic data outperforms directly training classifiers with DP-SGD.