Differentially Private Learning of Structured Discrete Distributions

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 28 (NIPS 2015)

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Ilias Diakonikolas, Moritz Hardt, Ludwig Schmidt


We investigate the problem of learning an unknown probability distribution over a discrete population from random samples. Our goal is to design efficient algorithms that simultaneously achieve low error in total variation norm while guaranteeing Differential Privacy to the individuals of the population.We describe a general approach that yields near sample-optimal and computationally efficient differentially private estimators for a wide range of well-studied and natural distribution families. Our theoretical results show that for a wide variety of structured distributions there exist private estimation algorithms that are nearly as efficient - both in terms of sample size and running time - as their non-private counterparts. We complement our theoretical guarantees with an experimental evaluation. Our experiments illustrate the speed and accuracy of our private estimators on both synthetic mixture models and a large public data set.