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Privacy Amplification via Random Check-Ins

Borja Balle
Abhradeep Thakurta
Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 34: Annual Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems 2020, NeurIPS 2020


Differentially Private Stochastic Gradient Descent (DP-SGD) forms a fundamental building block in many applications for learning over sensitive data. Two standard approaches, privacy amplification by subsampling, and privacy amplification by shuffling, permit adding lower noise in DP-SGD than via na\"{\i}ve schemes. A key assumption in both these approaches is that the elements in the data set can be uniformly sampled, or be uniformly permuted --- constraints that may become prohibitive when the data is processed in a decentralized or distributed fashion. In this paper, we focus on conducting iterative methods like DP-SGD in the setting of federated learning (FL) wherein the data is distributed among many devices (clients). Our main contribution is the random check-in distributed protocol, which crucially relies only on randomized participation decisions made locally and independently by each client. It has privacy/accuracy trade-offs similar to privacy amplification by subsampling/shuffling. However, our method does not require server-initiated communication, or even knowledge of the population size. To our knowledge, this is the first privacy amplification tailored for a distributed learning framework, and it may have broader applicability beyond FL. Along the way, we extend privacy amplification by shuffling to incorporate $(\epsilon,\delta)$-DP local randomizers, and exponentially improve its guarantees. In practical regimes, this improvement allows for similar privacy and utility using data from an order of magnitude fewer users.