Response to criticism of ABS TableBuilder tool

Media Statement

The ABS argues that recent claims from academics about the TableBuilder Tool are incorrect and alarmist.

The ABS understands community concerns about privacy. The ABS is vigilant in its protection of the secrecy of Census data. Robust protections ensure the privacy of individuals’ data, while also ensuring the utility of Census data for essential policy and research purposes.

TableBuilder is a tool that allows users to query de-identified data to understand the numbers of people that fall into various categories. For example, the number of people over the age of 64 that are still undertaking paid employment in a particular area.

The claim that a sophisticated attacker could reconstruct the entire Census database through the use of ABS TableBuilder is factually incorrect because the entire Census database is not available in TableBuilder.
The theoretical attacks on TableBuilder outlined by academics also do not take into account the full range of privacy protecting mitigation measures that the ABS has in place.

Before any Census data is uploaded to TableBuilder, all personal identifiers including, names addresses, dates of birth and specific identifiable characteristics are removed to safeguard privacy.
In addition, there are a range of mitigation measures for users of TableBuilder including a stringent registration process. Patterns of usage are also closely scrutinised to alert the ABS to any potential attack.
The ABS regularly tests and updates the protections of ABS TableBuilder, to ensure the adequacy of the privacy protections and continues to work with a range of academics, both in Australia and overseas, on evolving data analytics techniques.

The ABS undertakes a range of investigations to stay at the leading edge of methodological practice in privacy protection. As part of this work the ABS is assessing the potential of differential privacy and has been engaging with a number of experts and statistical organisations internationally, as outlined in this article Protecting the Confidentiality of Providers. As an emerging technique there are a range of views on its effectiveness, particularly its capacity to strike the right balance between utility and privacy.

For more information on ABS processes before releasing data including to TableBuilder see Understanding the Census and Census Data.

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