Practical Differentially Private Top-k Selection with Pay-what-you-get Composition

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 32 (NeurIPS 2019)

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David Durfee, Ryan M. Rogers


We study the problem of top-k selection over a large domain universe subject to user-level differential privacy. Typically, the exponential mechanism or report noisy max are the algorithms used to solve this problem. However, these algorithms require querying the database for the count of each domain element. We focus on the setting where the data domain is unknown, which is different than the setting of frequent itemsets where an apriori type algorithm can help prune the space of domain elements to query. We design algorithms that ensures (approximate) differential privacy and only needs access to the true top-k' elements from the data for any chosen k' ≥ k. This is a highly desirable feature for making differential privacy practical, since the algorithms require no knowledge of the domain. We consider both the setting where a user's data can modify an arbitrary number of counts by at most 1, i.e. unrestricted sensitivity, and the setting where a user's data can modify at most some small, fixed number of counts by at most 1, i.e. restricted sensitivity. Additionally, we provide a pay-what-you-get privacy composition bound for our algorithms. That is, our algorithms might return fewer than k elements when the top-k elements are queried, but the overall privacy budget only decreases by the size of the outcome set.