Increasing concerns and regulations about data privacy and sparsity necessitate the study of privacy-preserving, decentralized learning methods for natural language processing (NLP) tasks. Federated learning (FL) provides promising approaches for a large number of clients (e.g., personal devices or organizations) to collaboratively learn a shared global model to benefit all clients while allowing users to keep their data locally. Despite interest in studying FL methods for NLP tasks, a systematic comparison and analysis is lacking in the literature. Herein, we present the FedNLP, a benchmarking framework for evaluating federated learning methods on four different task formulations: text classification, sequence tagging, question answering, and seq2seq. We propose a universal interface between Transformer-based language models (e.g., BERT, BART) and FL methods (e.g., FedAvg, FedOPT, etc.) under various non-IID partitioning strategies. Our extensive experiments with FedNLP provide empirical comparisons between FL methods and help us better understand the inherent challenges of this direction. The comprehensive analysis points to intriguing and exciting future research aimed at developing FL methods for NLP tasks.
Natural Language Understanding (NLU) models can be trained on sensitive information such as phone numbers, zip-codes etc. Recent literature has focused on Model Inversion Attacks (ModIvA) that can extract training data from model parameters. In this work, we present a version of such an attack by extracting canaries inserted in NLU training data. In the attack, an adversary with open-box access to the model reconstructs the canaries contained in the model’s training set. We evaluate our approach by performing text completion on canaries and demonstrate that by using the prefix (non-sensitive) tokens of the canary, we can generate the full canary. As an example, our attack is able to reconstruct a four digit code in the training dataset of the NLU model with a probability of 0.5 in its best configuration. As countermeasures, we identify several defense mechanisms that, when combined, effectively eliminate the risk of ModIvA in our experiments.
Privacy is an important concern when building statistical models on data containing personal information. Differential privacy offers a strong definition of privacy and can be used to solve several privacy concerns. Multiple solutions have been proposed for the differentially-private transformation of datasets containing sensitive information. However, such transformation algorithms offer poor utility in Natural Language Processing (NLP) tasks due to noise added in the process. This paper addresses this issue by providing a utility-preserving differentially private text transformation algorithm using auto-encoders. Our algorithm transforms text to offer robustness against attacks and produces transformations with high semantic quality that perform well on downstream NLP tasks. We prove our algorithm’s theoretical privacy guarantee and assess its privacy leakage under Membership Inference Attacks (MIA) on models trained with transformed data. Our results show that the proposed model performs better against MIA attacks while offering lower to no degradation in the utility of the underlying transformation process compared to existing baselines.