Privitar raises $16M to help ensure privacy in big data analytics


As data
protection
— a set of laws and practices created across
different markets to ensure that our sensitive information does
not get leaked or shared without our permission — continues to
gain priority in our rapidly expanding digital world, a UK
startup called Privitar that is building tools to
help organizations keep that data private has picked up $16
million in funding to expand its tech platform and take its
business to the US market.

The Series A round was led by France’s Partech Ventures with
strategic participation from CME Ventures (the investing arm of
derivatives marketplace CME) and, interestingly, Salesforce
Ventures. Previous investors IQ Capital, 24Haymarket and
Illuminate Financial also participated, bringing the total
raised by two year-old Privitar to around
$21 million
(£16.5 million in local currency).

In an interview, CEO and co-founder Jason du Preez — who
previously
founded and sold a data distribution company, m35, to Reuters —
described Privitar as a “privacy engineering” firm, which
refers to a set of algorithms that are applied to data to help
separate it from obvious and less obvious identifiers. This is
not to be confused with more basic “anonymised” data.

“Often what people mean by ‘anonymised’ is that they’ve marked
out basic identifiers, but as data becomes more complex there
are other identifiers within the data that can be used to
pinpoint a user, even without basics like name and date of
birth, such as location,” he said. “That is the problem we have
solved, with methods that analyse the data and expose the
holes.”

In Privatar’s case, it offers two
products
today to help do this.

Privitar Publisher, “takes sensitive data and applies a privacy
policy to create an anonymised copy which can safely be used
for investigative analytics, machine learning, and sharing with
trusted parties” by way of tokenization and encryption of
identifying fields. And Privitar Lens is a “privacy-preserving
query interface for reporting and statistical analysis.
Privitar Lens allows analysts to perform sophisticated
analytical queries of the data (e.g. counts, sums, histograms),
but prevents direct access to the underlying sensitive data,”
which is also known as differential privacy. On top of the
products itself, Privitar logs and audits all queries.

Privitar is not the only company that has built products to
address the next level of personal data protection that has
arisen with the surge in big data analytics:
Apple
,
Microsoft
 (a trailblazer and early mover) and

Google
have all started to make moves to implement
differential privacy in their own data activities.

Privitar is notable because it’s building similar tools so that
others can have and use the same kinds of policies that these
big tech companies have built for themselves. Du Preez tells me
that its first wave of users have been companies in financial
services (unsurprisingly, as they have a lot of regulation
around data protection that they need to comply with), as well
as pharmaceutical and government organizations. “We’re starting
to expand across other industries,” he said, “because this is
completely transferrable to other services.”

Now is a key moment for more products to help companies with
data protection: cyber breaches, where data can equally be
leaked in drips or rushed out in disastrous tsunamis, continue
to take place, and with a growing amount of stolen data on the
market, it’s becoming all too easy for malicious hackers to
apply their own big data magic to steal identities and do a lot
of harm.

To come up with solutions to make that data impossible to use
in the first place is a very obvious and necessary line of
defense, alongside all of the other cybersecurity services that
have been developed to help with authentication, securing
network perimeters and so on. By one estimate (provided by
Privitar), there will be $50 billion spent by organizations on
privacy engineering solutions annually.

Unsurprisingly, the fact that Privitar is seizing that
opportunity and doing it successfully is one reason why the
company has raised what is a very decent round for a European
startup.

“Data-driven decision making and intelligence is becoming
critical for all businesses. Firms cannot afford to compromise
on privacy protection given the potential consequences to brand
and reputation,” said Jean-Marc Patouillaud, managing partner
for Partech Ventures, in a statement. “We have decided to
invest in Privitar because we see them as an excellent option
for organisations that want to get the most of their data while
ensuring full customer trust.”

One factor that will keep driving this is the big rush for big
data: with so many of our activities and services now holding a
digital component to them (if not being entirely digital now),
it’s given a rise to a vast amount of data that organizations
are hoping to tap for business intelligence, and maybe more.

“Balancing the acceleration of advanced analytics and
increasing data privacy concerns is an ongoing challenge for
financial institutions and other highly regulated industries
globally,” said Rumi Morales, head of CME Ventures. “CME
Ventures is excited to back Privitar’s pioneering technology
and world-class team, as they tackle this important issue.”


Featured Image:
Maciej Frolow
/Getty Images

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