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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Most data brokers avoid scrutiny by saying the data they collect and sell is “anonymized,” or a summary of a lot of people's information, rather than a single individual’s data.

Yes, but: That "anonymous" data can be used to pinpoint real people, or match that data to other supposedly anonymous profiles.

  • In 2006, AOL released search histories of 657,000 anonymous Americans, hoping the data could spur new research. But those searches contained things like locations, ages and genders — ultimately linkable back to specific people.
  • Researchers like Latanya Sweeney have discovered a variety of other ways to reverse more subtle forms of information. In fact, most Americans can be identified by birthday, gender and zip code, she discovered when she led Harvard’s Data Privacy Lab.
  • Last year, researchers noticed that hashing email addresses — thought to be an anonymizing mathematical function that would turn email addresses into gibberish — could be reversed by taking lists of leaked email addresses and performing trial and error searches.
“Once released, information is hard to control. Thus, over time, the more information and data can be linked and analyzed, the higher the likelihood of being able to make sensitive inferences from it for larger groups of people."
— Alessandro Acquisti, a Carnegie Mellon Professor who has studied re-identification

Go deeper

3 hours ago - Health

Fauci: Omicron variant will "inevitably" be found in U.S.

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, cautioned on Sunday that the COVID-19 Omicron variant will "inevitably" be found in the United States.

Driving the news: Fauci, Biden's chief medical adviser, told ABC's George Stephanopoulos on "This Week" that U.S. officials will meet with colleagues from South Africa later on Sunday to try to determine the severity of the cases, as countries scramble to learn more about the variant.

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Dems fear supply-chain blame

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

As supply-chain kinks drive up prices and disrupt holiday shopping, Democrats are scrambling to show action and deflect blame.

Why it matters: With their party controlling both the White House and Capitol, vulnerable Democrats worry supply-chain snafus will hurt them in next year's midterms.

5 hours ago - World

Scoop: Germany urges Congress not to sanction Putin’s pipeline

Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

The German government has urged members of Congress not to sanction the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, arguing that doing so will "weaken" U.S. credibility and "ultimately damage transatlantic unity," according to documents obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: At a time when roughly 100,000 Russian troops are massing at its border, Ukraine views Nord Stream 2 as an existential threat to its security. The pipeline would circumvent Ukrainian transit infrastructure and deliver Russian gas directly to Germany, eliminating one of the last deterrents Ukraine has against an invasion.