Ruoxi Jia


With the increasing adoption of language models in applications involving sensitive data, it has become crucial to protect these models from leaking private information. Previous work has attempted to tackle this challenge by training RNN-based language models with differential privacy guarantees. However, applying classical differential privacy to language models leads to poor model performance as the underlying privacy notion is over-pessimistic and provides undifferentiated protection for all tokens of the data. Given that the private information in natural language is sparse (for example, the bulk of an email might not carry personally identifiable information), we propose a new privacy notion, selective differential privacy, to provide rigorous privacy guarantees on the sensitive portion of the data to improve model utility. To realize such a new notion, we develop a corresponding privacy mechanism, Selective-DPSGD, for RNN-based language models. Besides language modeling, we also apply the method to a more concrete application -- dialog systems. Experiments on both language modeling and dialog system building show that the proposed privacy-preserving mechanism achieves better utilities while remaining safe under various privacy attacks compared to the baselines.


Ruoxi Jia

Publication Details

Date of publication:
August 30, 2021
Cornell University
Publication note:

Weiyan Shi, Aiqi Cui, Evan Li, Ruoxi Jia, Zhou Yu: Selective Differential Privacy for Language Modeling. CoRR abs/2108.12944 (2021)