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Krishnamurthy Dvijotham, H. Brendan McMahan, Krishna Pillutla, Thomas Steinke, Abhradeep Thakurta

In the task of differentially private (DP) continual counting, we receive a stream of increments and our goal is to output an approximate running total of these increments, without revealing too much about any specific increment. Despite its simplicity, differentially private continual counting has attracted significant attention both in theory and in practice. Existing algorithms for differentially private continual counting are either inefficient in terms of their space usage or add an excessive amount of noise, inducing suboptimal utility. The most practical DP continual counting algorithms add carefully correlated Gaussian noise to the values. The task of choosing the covariance for this noise can be expressed in terms of factoring the lower-triangular matrix of ones (which computes prefix sums). We present two approaches from this class (for different parameter regimes) that achieve near-optimal utility for DP continual counting and only require logarithmic or polylogarithmic space (and time). Our first approach is based on a space-efficient streaming matrix multiplication algorithm for a class of Toeplitz matrices. We show that to instantiate this algorithm for DP continual counting, it is sufficient to find a low-degree rational function that approximates the square root on a circle in the complex plane. We then apply and extend tools from approximation theory to achieve this. We also derive efficient closed-forms for the objective function for arbitrarily many steps, and show direct numerical optimization yields a highly practical solution to the problem. Our second approach combines our first approach with a recursive construction similar to the binary tree mechanism.

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Christopher A. Choquette-Choo, Arun Ganesh, Thomas Steinke, Abhradeep Thakurta

Privacy amplification exploits randomness in data selection to provide tighter differential privacy (DP) guarantees. This analysis is key to DP-SGD's success in machine learning, but, is not readily applicable to the newer state-of-the-art algorithms. This is because these algorithms, known as DP-FTRL, use the matrix mechanism to add correlated noise instead of independent noise as in DP-SGD. In this paper, we propose "MMCC", the first algorithm to analyze privacy amplification via sampling for any generic matrix mechanism. MMCC is nearly tight in that it approaches a lower bound as $\epsilon\to0$. To analyze correlated outputs in MMCC, we prove that they can be analyzed as if they were independent, by conditioning them on prior outputs. Our "conditional composition theorem" has broad utility: we use it to show that the noise added to binary-tree-DP-FTRL can asymptotically match the noise added to DP-SGD with amplification. Our amplification algorithm also has practical empirical utility: we show it leads to significant improvement in the privacy-utility trade-offs for DP-FTRL algorithms on standard benchmarks.

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Christopher A. Choquette-Choo, Krishnamurthy Dvijotham, Krishna Pillutla, Arun Ganesh, Thomas Steinke, Abhradeep Thakurta

Differentially private learning algorithms inject noise into the learning process. While the most common private learning algorithm, DP-SGD, adds independent Gaussian noise in each iteration, recent work on matrix factorization mechanisms has shown empirically that introducing correlations in the noise can greatly improve their utility. We characterize the asymptotic learning utility for any choice of the correlation function, giving precise analytical bounds for linear regression and as the solution to a convex program for general convex functions. We show, using these bounds, how correlated noise provably improves upon vanilla DP-SGD as a function of problem parameters such as the effective dimension and condition number. Moreover, our analytical expression for the near-optimal correlation function circumvents the cubic complexity of the semi-definite program used to optimize the noise correlation matrix in previous work. We validate our theory with experiments on private deep learning. Our work matches or outperforms prior work while being efficient both in terms of compute and memory.

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Arun Ganesh, Mahdi Haghifam, Thomas Steinke, Abhradeep Thakurta

Differentially private (stochastic) gradient descent is the workhorse of DP private machine learning in both the convex and non-convex settings. Without privacy constraints, second-order methods, like Newton's method, converge faster than first-order methods like gradient descent. In this work, we investigate the prospect of using the second-order information from the loss function to accelerate DP convex optimization. We first develop a private variant of the regularized cubic Newton method of Nesterov and Polyak, and show that for the class of strongly convex loss functions, our algorithm has quadratic convergence and achieves the optimal excess loss. We then design a practical second-order DP algorithm for the unconstrained logistic regression problem. We theoretically and empirically study the performance of our algorithm. Empirical results show our algorithm consistently achieves the best excess loss compared to other baselines and is 10-40x faster than DP-GD/DP-SGD.

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Maryam Aliakbarpour, Rose Silver, Thomas Steinke, Jonathan Ullman

We construct differentially private estimators with low sample complexity that estimate the median of an arbitrary distribution over $\mathbb{R}$ satisfying very mild moment conditions. Our result stands in contrast to the surprising negative result of Bun et al. (FOCS 2015) that showed there is no differentially private estimator with any finite sample complexity that returns any non-trivial approximation to the median of an arbitrary distribution.

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Thomas Steinke, Milad Nasr, Matthew Jagielski

We propose a scheme for auditing differentially private machine learning systems with a single training run. This exploits the parallelism of being able to add or remove multiple training examples independently. We analyze this using the connection between differential privacy and statistical generalization, which avoids the cost of group privacy. Our auditing scheme requires minimal assumptions about the algorithm and can be applied in the black-box or white-box setting.

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Arun Ganesh, Mahdi Haghifam, Milad Nasr, Sewoong Oh, Thomas Steinke, Om Thakkar, Abhradeep Thakurta, Lun Wang

In the privacy-utility tradeoff of a model trained on benchmark language and vision tasks, remarkable improvements have been widely reported with the use of pretraining on publicly available data. This is in part due to the benefits of transfer learning, which is the standard motivation for pretraining in non-private settings. However, the stark contrast in the improvement achieved through pretraining under privacy compared to non-private settings suggests that there may be a deeper, distinct cause driving these gains. To explain this phenomenon, we hypothesize that the non-convex loss landscape of a model training necessitates an optimization algorithm to go through two phases. In the first, the algorithm needs to select a good "basin" in the loss landscape. In the second, the algorithm solves an easy optimization within that basin. The former is a harder problem to solve with private data, while the latter is harder to solve with public data due to a distribution shift or data scarcity. Guided by this intuition, we provide theoretical constructions that provably demonstrate the separation between private training with and without public pretraining. Further, systematic experiments on CIFAR10 and LibriSpeech provide supporting evidence for our hypothesis.

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Milad Nasr, Jamie Hayes, Thomas Steinke, Borja Balle, Florian Tramèr, Matthew Jagielski, Nicholas Carlini, Andreas Terzis

Auditing mechanisms for differential privacy use probabilistic means to empirically estimate the privacy level of an algorithm. For private machine learning, existing auditing mechanisms are tight: the empirical privacy estimate (nearly) matches the algorithm's provable privacy guarantee. But these auditing techniques suffer from two limitations. First, they only give tight estimates under implausible worst-case assumptions (e.g., a fully adversarial dataset). Second, they require thousands or millions of training runs to produce non-trivial statistical estimates of the privacy leakage. This work addresses both issues. We design an improved auditing scheme that yields tight privacy estimates for natural (not adversarially crafted) datasets -- if the adversary can see all model updates during training. Prior auditing works rely on the same assumption, which is permitted under the standard differential privacy threat model. This threat model is also applicable, e.g., in federated learning settings. Moreover, our auditing scheme requires only two training runs (instead of thousands) to produce tight privacy estimates, by adapting recent advances in tight composition theorems for differential privacy. We demonstrate the utility of our improved auditing schemes by surfacing implementation bugs in private machine learning code that eluded prior auditing techniques.

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Gautam Kamath, Argyris Mouzakis, Matthew Regehr, Vikrant Singhal, Thomas Steinke, Jonathan Ullman

The canonical algorithm for differentially private mean estimation is to first clip the samples to a bounded range and then add noise to their empirical mean. Clipping controls the sensitivity and, hence, the variance of the noise that we add for privacy. But clipping also introduces statistical bias. We prove that this tradeoff is inherent: no algorithm can simultaneously have low bias, low variance, and low privacy loss for arbitrary distributions. On the positive side, we show that unbiased mean estimation is possible under approximate differential privacy if we assume that the distribution is symmetric. Furthermore, we show that, even if we assume that the data is sampled from a Gaussian, unbiased mean estimation is impossible under pure or concentrated differential privacy.

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Thomas Steinke

This chapter is meant to be part of the book "Differential Privacy for Artificial Intelligence Applications." We give an introduction to the most important property of differential privacy -- composition: running multiple independent analyses on the data of a set of people will still be differentially private as long as each of the analyses is private on its own -- as well as the related topic of privacy amplification by subsampling. This chapter introduces the basic concepts and gives proofs of the key results needed to apply these tools in practice.

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