Estimating numerical distributions under local differential privacy

Zitao Li, Tianhao Wang, Milan Lopuhaä-Zwakenberg, Boris Skoric, Ninghui Li

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When collecting information, local differential privacy (LDP) relieves the concern of privacy leakage from users' perspective, as user's private information is randomized before sent to the aggregator. We study the problem of recovering the distribution over a numerical domain while satisfying LDP. While one can discretize a numerical domain and then apply the protocols developed for categorical domains, we show that taking advantage of the numerical nature of the domain results in better trade-off of privacy and utility. We introduce a new reporting mechanism, called the square wave SW mechanism, which exploits the numerical nature in reporting. We also develop an Expectation Maximization with Smoothing (EMS) algorithm, which is applied to aggregated histograms from the SW mechanism to estimate the original distributions. Extensive experiments demonstrate that our proposed approach, SW with EMS, consistently outperforms other methods in a variety of utility metrics.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1912.01051v1
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - 2 Dec 2019


  • cs.CR
  • cs.DB
  • cs.LG


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