Most people know that anonymous means “unattributable to a specific source or person” When someone makes an HR complaint to corporate anonymously, it means that the information is submitted without knowing who submitted it.
The process of anonymization has become increasingly important in the age of growing data privacy and protection issues. GDPR has been a highly impactful way of addressing some of these concerns, issuing strict standards businesses must apply and follow when collecting and using customer data. Data anonymization techniques have become one of the ways that GDPR compliant businesses work to protect their customer data and other sensitive information. Anonymization takes personal data and makes it anonymous, or not attributable to one specific source or person.
What are the most important types of data anonymization?
Here are some of the most important data anonymization techniques used by businesses.
- Removal: This process involves removing entire fields of data to reduce the risk of linking it to any source. Just like an anonymous HR complaint removes the name and identity of the person providing the information, a removal is a straightforward form of anonymization. It is not used widely in certain businesses, but some do have the capability and need to strip entire pieces of data out of their data sets and delete them entirely to create more secure collections of information.
- Redaction: This is used in many forms of government communication. It’s a simple form of removing sensitive information – someone will print out a hard copy of a document and manually mark out sensitive or identifying information before passing it off to another party. This is also the form of anonymization that some medical companies use to create privacy for patients who were involved in a study or who are part of a release of information.
- Encryption: For the most security, data anonymization isn’t meant to be able to be reversed, but some people and organizations still use encryption as their means of anonymization. Encryption uses technology to render sensitive information as unreadable or unintelligible and can only be read after application of a decryption key, which must be kept separate from the encrypted files. Because there is a decryption key at all, however, there is a higher risk of potentially exposing or accessing sensitive information.
Some Robust Data Anonymization Programs
Beyond these general and basic data anonymization techniques, there are plenty of software programs currently available that use advanced data anonymization algorithms to make information more private and secure. Some of the most robust data anonymization programs are:
- ARX: This data anonymization tool is an open source program that enables the complete anonymization of sensitive data. It has been used by commercial big data platforms, research and training programs and projects, and clinical trial data sharing. It can handle large data sets, making it a great tool for almost any size business or project.
- Anonymizer: This tool has been used to anonymize street-view photos, webcam photos, or any other photos for which privacy is a major concern. We often think of data as a string of numbers or letters, like addresses, birthdates, names, and social security numbers, but it’s good to remember that hiding information from photos can be an important part of protecting anonymity and privacy and this tool helps deliver that.
- Aircloak: This solution doesn’t affect the quality of your data and is robust enough to meet GDPR standards. It has been used by businesses in the banking sector, the healthcare industry, and by other service providers.
Everyone is entitled to their privacy and interacting with a business, participating in a medical study, applying for a job, taking a job, or any number of information exchanging activities doesn’t mean that any individual sacrifices their right to privacy. Responsible businesses and organizations know that they must utilize the proper methods and best tools to ensure that data is private and protected.