Research Accomplishments of Latanya Sweeney, Ph.D.


Medical Informatics
      Genomic identifiability
      Patient-centered management

Database Security

      Risk assessment server

      Face de-identification

      Contactless capture

Policy and Law
      Identifiability of de-identified data
      HIPAA assessments
      Privacy-preserving surveillance

Public Education
      Identity angel

Quantitative assessments

Public Education: Identity Angel

[cite, cite]

Problem Statement: Given U.S. Federal Trade Commission reports of rapid growth in identity theft among young adults involving the acquisition of new credit cards, construct systems to defeat these identity theft vulnerabilities.

Description: Dr. Sweeney's Identity Angel offers one solution. It crawls the Web looking through resumes found freely available and automatically notifies a subject by email if available information can be combined to fraudulently acquire a new credit card in his name. The goal is have the information removed. In order to get a new credit card in someone else's name, an imposter needs to learn the {name, Social Security Number (SSN), address, date of birth} of the subject (a). In a series of distinct run periods, Identity Angel automatically found more than 10,000 resumes (b) freely available on-line that contained the noted information. It automatically harvested values from text (using regular expressions), sent email, and checked later to determine whether the information was removed. It was effective in 71% of cases. Dr. Sweeney's current work involves proposing new policy constructions that align economic incentives to those who can deploy better credit card technologies to eliminate many problems.

(a) Sample credit card application

In (b) above are sample on-line resumes that include SSNs, Two of the resumes include dates of birth. All three include address and phone number. SSNs have been truncated for this writing but were fully available. More than 10,000 such resumes found by Identity Angel program.

Scientific Influence and Impact: Dr. Sweeney's Identity Angel program found more than 10,000 Social Security numbers in on-line resumes in three runs. It attempted to email about 3000 individuals whose {SSN, email} were found, and within a month after notification, about 2000 SSNs were removed. In an attempt to put faces to the data and help spread the word, CBS News interviewed different people in different cities for reactions and aired the interviews on local stations, e.g. Denver [].

Other Achievements: 12

  • Scientific American, Featured In-Depth Profile (rarely done). Other news articles appeared in: Newsweek, Consumer Affairs, and National Public Radio.


12 See quantitative assessments for more details.

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Fall 2009