The National Institute of Standards and Technology launched a quarter-million dollar privacy technology competition this month aimed at making it more difficult to trace large data sets back to individual users.

Big data is extremely useful for any number of projects. The problem is that even if you remove the names from large data sets, data can be traced back to individuals. In any zip code, for example, there may be only a few people matching the same age, gender, weight and salary profiles. The more fields you add, the easier it would be to trace.

The NIST competition focuses on public safety information using geolocation data, but the same techniques could transfer to the private sector said competition organizer Gary Howarth.

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