The rapid adoption of machine learning has increased concerns about the privacy implications of machine learning models trained on sensitive data, such as medical records or other personal information. To address those concerns, one promising approach is Private Aggregation of Teacher Ensembles, or PATE, which transfers to a "student" model the knowledge of an ensemble of "teacher" models, with intuitive privacy provided by training teachers on disjoint data and strong privacy guaranteed by noisy aggregation of teachers’ answers. However, PATE has so far been evaluated only on simple classification tasks like MNIST, leaving unclear its utility when applied to larger-scale learning tasks and real-world datasets.
In this work, we show how PATE can scale to learning tasks with large numbers of output classes and uncurated, imbalanced training data with errors. For this, we introduce new noisy aggregation mechanisms for teacher ensembles that are more selective and add less noise, and prove their tighter differential-privacy guarantees. Our new mechanisms build on two insights: the chance of teacher consensus is increased by using more concentrated noise and, lacking consensus, no answer need be given to a student. The consensus answers used are more likely to be correct, offer better intuitive privacy, and incur lower-differential privacy cost. Our evaluation shows our mechanisms improve on the original PATE on all measures, and scale to larger tasks with both high utility and very strong privacy (ε < 1.0).