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Privately detecting changes in unknown distributions

Rachel Cummings · Sara Krehbiel · Yuliia Lut · Wanrong Zhang


Keywords: [ Privacy-preserving Statistics and Machine Learning ] [ Non-parametric Methods ]


The change-point detection problem seeks to identify distributional changes in streams of data. Increasingly, tools for change-point detection are applied in settings where data may be highly sensitive and formal privacy guarantees are required, such as identifying disease outbreaks based on hospital records, or IoT devices detecting activity within a home. Differential privacy has emerged as a powerful technique for enabling data analysis while preventing information leakage about individuals. Much of the prior work on change-point detection---including the only private algorithms for this problem---requires complete knowledge of the pre-change and post-change distributions, which is an unrealistic assumption for many practical applications of interest. This work develops differentially private algorithms for solving the change-point detection problem when the data distributions are unknown. Additionally, the data may be sampled from distributions that change smoothly over time, rather than fixed pre-change and post-change distributions. We apply our algorithms to detect changes in the linear trends of such data streams. Finally, we also provide experimental results to empirically validate the performance of our algorithms.

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