Training Text-to-Text Transformers with Privacy Guarantees

Natalia B Ponomareva
Findings of ACL(2022)
Google Scholar


Transformer-based language models are being pre-trained on ever growing datasets (hundreds of gigabytes) using ever growing amounts of parameters (millions to billions). These large amounts of training data are typically scraped from the public web, and may contain (public) personally identifiable information such as names and phone numbers. Moreover, recent findings also show that the capacity of these models allow them to memorize parts of the training data. One defense against such memorization that has not yet been fully explored in this context is differential privacy (DP). We focus on T5, a popular encoder-decoder, and show that by using recent advances in JAX and XLA we can train models with DP that do not suffer a big drop in utility, nor in training speed, and can still be fine-tuned to high accuracies on downstream tasks such as GLUE. Moreover, we show that T5's span corruption pre-training task, unlike next token prediction, is a good defense against data memorization.