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Affinity Workshop: LatinX in AI (LXAI) Research @ NeurIPS 2021

On the Pitfalls of Label Differential Privacy

Andres Munoz Medina · Róbert Busa-Fekete · Umar Syed · Sergei Vassilvitskii


We study the privacy limitations of label differential privacy, which has emerged as an intermediate trust model between local and central differential privacy, where only the label of each training example is protected (and the features are assumed to be public). We show that the guarantees provided by label DP are significantly weaker than they appear, as an adversary can "un-noise" the perturbed labels. Formally we show that the privacy loss has a close connection with Jeffreys' divergence of the conditional distribution between positive and negative labels, which allows explicit formulation of the trade-off between utility and privacy in this setting. Our results suggest how to select public features that optimize this trade-off. But we still show that there is no free lunch---instances where label differential privacy guarantees are strong are exactly those where a good classifier does not exist. We complement the negative results with a non-parametric estimator for the true privacy loss, and apply our techniques on large-scale benchmark data to demonstrate how toachieve a desired privacy protection.