Google Research

Private Robust Estimation by Stabilizing Convex Relaxations

COLT 2022


We give the first polynomial time and sample (epsilon, delta)-differentially private (DP) algorithm to estimate the mean, covariance and higher moments in the presence of a constant fraction of adversarial outliers. Our algorithm succeeds for families of distributions that satisfy two well-studied properties in prior works on robust estimation: certifiable subgaussianity of directional moments and certifiable hypercontractivity of degree 2 polynomials. Our recovery guarantees hold in the “right affine-invariant norms”: Mahalanobis distance for mean, multiplicative spectral and relative Frobenius distance guarantees for covariance and injective norms for higher moments. Prior works obtained private robust algorithms for mean estimation of subgaussian distributions with bounded covariance. For covariance estimation, ours is the first efficient algorithm (even in the absence of outliers) that succeeds without any condition-number assumptions. Our algorithms arise from a new framework that provides a general blueprint for modifying convex relaxations for robust estimation to satisfy strong worst-case stability guarantees in the appropriate parameter norms whenever the algorithms produce witnesses of correctness in their run. We verify such guarantees for a modification of standard sum-of-squares (SoS) semidefinite programming relaxations for robust estimation. Our privacy guarantees are obtained by combining stability guarantees with a new “estimate dependent” noise injection mechanism in which noise scales with the eigenvalues of the estimated covariance. We believe this framework will be useful more generally in obtaining DP counterparts of robust estimators. Independently of our work, Ashtiani and Liaw [AL21] also obtained a polynomial time and sample private robust estimation algorithm for Gaussian distributions.

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