Latanya Sweeney – Wikipedia

Computer scientist

Latanya Arvette Sweeney is the Daniel Paul Professor of the Practice of Government and Technology at the Harvard Kennedy School and in the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University.[1] She is the director of the Public Interest Tech Lab, founded in 2021 with a $3 million grant from the Ford Foundation.[2][3] She founded the Data Privacy Lab, part of the Public Interest Tech Lab, and she is the Faculty Dean in Currier House at Harvard.[4]

Sweeny was the Chief Technologist of the Federal Trade Commission from January until December 2014.[5][6] Her best known academic work is on the theory of k-anonymity, and she is credited with the observation that “87% of the U.S. population is uniquely identified by date of birth, gender, postal code”.[7]


Sweeney graduated from Dana Hall Schools in Wellesley, Massachusetts, receiving her high school diploma in 1977. She delivered the valedictory at the graduation ceremony.[8]

In 2001, Sweeney was awarded a PhD in computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the first African American woman to do so.[9] She began her undergraduate work in computer science at MIT, but left to found a company: “I would do something that was really quite noteworthy, but there was nowhere to publish about it. You could get paid for it, but there was no way to say, ‘You won’t believe what I just did!’ The only way to get it was to go back to school.”[10] She completed her undergraduate degree in computer science at Harvard University Extension School before returning to MIT for her doctoral work.[11]

Career and research[edit]

In 2001, Sweeney became the director and founder of the Data Privacy Lab at Carnegie Mellon University. She was a member of the Program Committee for Modeling Decisions for Artificial Intelligence in 2005. In 2004, she founded the Journal of Privacy Technology, later becoming the editor-in-chief in 2006.[12] She is currently one of the faculty deans of Currier House.[13]

Early publication and challenges[edit]

In 1997, Sweeney conducted her first re-identification experiment wherein she successfully identified then Massachusetts governor, William Weld, to his medical records using publicly accessible records.[14][15] Her results had a significant impact on privacy centered policymaking including the health privacy legislation HIPAA; however publication of the experiment was rejected twenty times. The several re-identification experiments she conducted after this were met with serious publication challenges as well. In fact, a court ruling in Southern Illinoisian v. Department of Public Health barred her from publication and sharing of her methods for a successful re-identification experiment. Fear of publicly exposing a serious issue with no known solution fueled the majority of the backlash against publication of her works and similar re-identification experiments for over a decade. Unless experiments concluded that no risk existed or that the issue could be resolved through reasonable technological advancement, publication was largely denied.

In her article “Only You, Your Doctor, and Many Others May Know,”[16] Sweeney discusses her research project in which she located and matched up identities and personal health records through a number of methods. Such methods, as she explains in depth later on, include looking at public health records from hospitals and newspaper stories. Towards the end of the article, Sweeney touches upon the different approaches of how she analyzed and matched the data, either through using computer programs or human effort. She then makes the conclusion that new and improved methods of data sharing are necessary.[17]

Data Privacy Lab[edit]

Since 2011, Sweeney’s Data Privacy Lab at Harvard has been conducting research about data privacy.[18] It intends to provide a cross-disciplinary perspective about privacy in the process of disseminating data.

Public Interest Tech Lab[edit]

In 2021, Sweeney launched the Public Interest Technology Lab[19] at Harvard, housed in the Shorenstein Center.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ “Latanya Sweeney”. Harvard Kennedy School Faculty Profile. Retrieved 2021-06-21.
  2. ^ “Humanizing Technology”. Harvard Gazette. 23 June 2021. Retrieved 2021-07-22.
  3. ^ “People”. Public Interest Tech Lab. Retrieved 2021-07-21.
  4. ^ “Latanya Sweeney”. Harvard Business School Digital Initiative. Retrieved 2019-11-12.
  5. ^ “FTC Names Latanya Sweeney as Chief Technologist; Andrea Matwyshyn as Policy Advisor”. Federal Trade Commission. November 18, 2013. Retrieved August 6, 2014.
  6. ^ “Hello world! | Federal Trade Commission”. Retrieved 2016-03-22.
  7. ^ L. Sweeney. “Simple Demographics Often Identify People Uniquely (Data Privacy Working Paper 3) Pittsburgh 2000” (PDF). Carnegie Mellon University. Retrieved 18 January 2014.
  8. ^ “Dr. Latanya Sweeney, Curriculum Vitae”. Retrieved 2017-10-24.
  9. ^ “New faculty deans appointed”. Harvard Gazette. 9 May 2016. Retrieved 2016-06-06.
  10. ^ “Tech Pioneer Latanya Sweeney’s Advice to her Younger Self”. Ms. Magazine. 2019-09-04. Retrieved 22 July 2021.
  11. ^ “Biographical sketches of Latanya Sweeney”. Data Privacy Lab, Harvard University. Retrieved 18 January 2014.
  12. ^ “Biographical sketches of Latanya Sweeney, Ph.D.” Retrieved 2017-10-24.
  13. ^ “New faculty deans appointed”. Harvard Gazette. 9 May 2016. Retrieved 2016-06-06.
  14. ^ “Law, Ethics & Science of Re-identification Demonstrations”. Bill of Health: Examining the Intersection of Health Law, Biotechnology and Bioethics, Petrie Flom Center at Harvard University. Retrieved 2021-06-12.
  15. ^ Ohm, Paul (2009-08-13). “Broken Promises of Privacy: Responding to the Surprising Failure of Anonymization”. UCLA Law Review. 57: 1701 – via
  16. ^ Sweeney, Latanya. “Only You, Your Doctor, and Many Others May Know”. Technology Science – via
  17. ^ Sweeney, Latanya (2015-09-29). “Only You, Your Doctor, and Many Others May Know”. Technology Science.
  18. ^ Perry, Caroline (18 October 2011). “You’re not so anonymous”. Harvard Gazette. Sweeney, the founder and director of Harvard’s Data Privacy Lab
  19. ^ “New Public Interest Tech Lab”. Shorenstein Center. 2021-06-23. Retrieved 2021-11-24.

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]