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IBM on Tuesday unveiled software that makes it possible for organizations to work together without compromising the privacy of each other's data.
The DB2 Anonymous Resolution product targets organizations that need to collaborate, but have reasons not to let each other see their information. Such a scenario could exist, for example, in merger negotiations or between the United States and other countries in homeland security issues.
"The data can never be used beyond its original intent," Drew Friedrich, director of IBM's entity-analytics unit, said. "It gives the data owner total control over knowledge discovery."
For the process to work, all parties in a collaborative effort would need to have the IBM product, which costs $25,000 per CPU. Working through the software's console, the user would have data records converted into the product's "standard" format and then given a unique identifier. Records that apply to the same entity, a customer, for example, would get the same identifier.
The data from all sides would then be sent to a separate component of the product, which would analyze the data and return results. The analytical component could reside anywhere, even with a neutral third party.
In the case of merger negotiations, for example, both companies could use Anonymous Resolution to compare customer lists to determine the number of new customers in the combined company, Friedrich said. The results of the analysis could be sent back in the form of percentages.
In the case of homeland security, the U.S. government could send its terrorist watch list through the product and European airlines could do the same for their passenger lists. If a terrorist was found on a list, an alert on the software's console would display the alphanumerical ID given to the data, and U.S. officials could use that in seeking the information from an airline.
DB2 Anonymous Resolution can run on top of IBM's DB2 database, as well as any other relational database. The software is similar to technology currently in use in government and law enforcement agencies, but is "new and unique for enterprise use," Dana Gardner, analyst for market researcher Yankee Group Research Inc. said.
"There's potentially a large demand for this, because as more and more digital information is used and distributed, there's a need for a certain level of privacy, while allowing for a maximum amount of business intelligence," Gardner said. "Privacy isn't either or. There are a lot of shades of gray as to how much privacy is appropriate."
The IBM product would enable organizations to combine data for analytical purposes, without any risk of identifying whom the data belongs to, Gardner said.
Anonymous Resolution is currently available and targets a variety of industries, including financial services, healthcare and retail.