• Yingrui Chen

Student thesis: Phd


Data synthesis is a statistical disclosure control technique that prevents the leakage of personal information from survey data. Rubin, who originally proposed this technique, treated the confidential data within a dataset as missing and then replaced those data using multiple imputation [103]. Most methods in data synthesis were then developed based on this principle. However, data synthesis is a multi-objective problem that aims to maximise information utility as well as minimising disclosure risks, and these methods have no explicit mechanism for balancing the objectives. This issue is the basis for the line of enquiry embodied in this thesis. The need to optimise competing objectives suggests the possible use of iterative machine learning techniques for data synthesis, but - to date - investigations of this possibility have been limited. In the thesis, a new synthesis method using Genetic Algorithms (GAs) is introduced. GAs are evolutionary computational methods that simulate natural evolution. They allow candidates (which in this thesis are datasets) to compete, reproduce and mate in a pre-determined environment until one or more of them perfectly fits the environment (which is defined by a set of objectives). GAs were firstly used on binary strings and now they have variants that deal with different problems and data forms. In this thesis, a GA data synthesiser whose candidates are matrix and real-coded data is designed, and most of its parameters and hyper-parameters tested. A new information utility function to measure the overall divergence from synthetic data to the original data is used. The results of running the synthesiser on a real dataset are presented, which show that the GA approach successfully produced plausible synthetic data using a single utility objective and they were proved to be able to seek for a trade-off between information utility and disclosure risks during the process of synthesising. The overall conclusion is that GAs represent a significant opportunity for the practice of data synthesis.
Date of Award31 Dec 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorMark Elliot (Supervisor) & Duncan Smith (Supervisor)


  • Machine Learning
  • Data Privacy
  • Genetic Algorithms
  • Data Synthesis

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