DeID2 - A Better Meter Stick for Differential Privacy

Help NIST PSCR by proposing metrics to better assess the accuracy and quality of differential privacy algorithm outputs.

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$14,000 Prize Purse

This challenge is closed

Implemented By


This challenge is Part 1 of a multi-phased challenge. To participate in the other stages please visit  See the complete challenge rules here. Additionally, further details about the other stages can be found below.

The Public Safety Communications Research Division (PSCR) of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) invites members of the public to join the Differential Privacy Temporal Map Challenge (DeID2).  This multi-stage challenge will award up to $276,000 to advance differential privacy technologies by building and measuring the accuracy of algorithms that de-identify data sets containing temporal and geographic information with provable differential privacy.

The DeID2 Challenge is composed of three contests: 

  • A Better Meter Stick for Differential Privacy Contest, which is a metric competition to develop new metrics by which the quality of privatized data produced by differential privacy algorithms can be assessed.
  • The Differential Privacy Temporal Map Contest, which is a series of algorithm sprints that will explore new methods in differential privacy for geographic time series data that preserve the utility of the data as much as possible while guaranteeing privacy.
  • Open Source and Development Contest, which is open only to leading teams at the end of the final algorithm sprint.

There are no fees or qualifications needed to enter any stage, and teams can participate in either or both the metric competition and the algorithm sprints.  The metric competition and the first algorithm sprint will run simultaneously. Please note that while this challenge is open to international participation, the Team Lead must be a US citizen or permanent resident of the US or its territories. The Team Lead is the sole person who will accept the cash prizes on behalf of the team, but we encourage the make-up of the team to include solvers globally. 

Challenge Background

Large data sets containing personally identifiable information (PII) are exceptionally valuable resources for research and policy analysis in a host of fields such as emergency planning and epidemiology. This project seeks to engage the public in developing algorithms to de-identify data sets containing PII to result in data sets that remain valuable tools yet cannot compromise the privacy of individuals whose information is contained within the data set. 

Previous NIST PSCR differential privacy projects (NIST Differential Privacy Synthetic Data Challenge and The Unlinkable Data Challenge: Advancing Methods in Differential Privacy - collectively referred to as DeID1) demonstrated that crowdsourced challenges can make meaningful advancements in this difficult and complex field. Those previous contests raised awareness of the problem, brought in innovators from outside the privacy community, and demonstrated the value of head-to-head competitions for driving progress in data privacy.  This Differential Privacy Temporal Map Challenge hopes to build on these results by extending the reach and utility of differential privacy algorithms to new data types.

Temporal map data is of particular interest to the public safety community. There are a number of different situations where this type of data is important, such as in epidemiology studies, resource allocation, and emergency planning. Yet the ability to track a person’s location over a period of time presents particularly serious privacy concerns. The Differential Privacy Temporal Map Contest invites solvers to develop algorithms that preserve data utility while guaranteeing privacy.  Learn more about this competition here.

This A Better Meter Stick for Differential Privacy Contest invites solvers to present a concept paper detailing metrics with which to assess the accuracy and quality of outputs from algorithms that de-identify data sets containing temporal map data.  High-quality metrics developed from this contest may be used to evaluate differential privacy algorithms submitted to the final algorithm sprint of the Differential Privacy Temporal Map Contest.

The long-term objective of this project is to develop differential privacy algorithms that are robust enough to use successfully with any data sets - not just those that are provided for these contests.  The Open Source Development Contest provides leading teams with an opportunity to further develop their software to increase its utility and usability for open-source audiences.


The DeID2 Challenge is implemented by DrivenData and HeroX under contract with NIST PSCR. This website is not owned or operated by the Government. All content, data, and information included on or collected by this site is created, managed, and owned by parties other than the Government.


Contest Background

Public safety use-cases of temporal map data include emergency planning, epidemiologic analysis, and policy setting. High-quality data is required to perform sound analyses in these areas. Both time and space segments may be sparsely populated yet critically important. Further, these sparsely populated segments have an inherently greater risk to linkage attack, where auxiliary and possibly completely unrelated datasets, in combination with records in the dataset that contain sensitive information, can be used to determine uniquely identifiable individuals. Although differential privacy has a formal guarantee against linkage attacks, there is no guarantee of accuracy in output data.

In this contest, NIST PSCR seeks novel metrics by which to assess the quality of differentially private algorithms on temporal map data. Submissions should provide robust metrics that can be applied to a wide variety of data sets involving temporal and spatial data. Solvers are encouraged to provide examples of how their proposed metrics will improve use-case outcomes. 


Better Meter Stick for Differential Privacy Contest Guidelines

NIST PSCR is interested in creative, effective and insightful approaches to evaluating the outputs from differential privacy algorithms, especially those involving temporal map data. The area of data privatization is growing rapidly, as is our understanding of the quality of privatized data.

NIST PSCR invites solvers to develop metrics that best assess the accuracy of the data output by the algorithms that de-identify temporal map data. In particular, methods are sought that:

  • Measure the quality of data with respect to temporal or geographic accuracy/utility, or both.
  • Evaluate data quality in contexts beyond this challenge.
  • Are clearly explained, and straightforward to correctly implement and use.

As you propose your evaluation metrics, be prepared to explain their relevance and how they would be used. These metrics may be your original content, based on existing work, or any combination thereof. If your proposed metrics are based on existing work or techniques, please provide citations. Participants will be required to submit both a broad overview of proposed approaches and specific details about the metric definition and usage. Additionally, we are interested in how easily an approach can accommodate large data sets (scalability) and how well it can translate to different use cases (generalizability).

In order to help the community propose better metrics, NIST PSCR will review the executive summary section for any metric submitted by November 30, 2020 and provide high level feedback.  NIST PSCR will only review and comment on the executive summary section.  This feedback is intended to help participants develop more complete and thoughtful metrics.  All feedback will be provided by December 3, 2020.  Participation in this step is optional, but it is a good opportunity that will allow you to check if you are on the right track.

Each submission should contain only one metric.  Each individual/team lead is allowed one submission.  Organizations may have multiple teams, but each team must have a different team lead.  All submissions are due by January 5, 2021, 10pm EST and should include a title, brief description of the proposed metric, introduction to the team, and a completed submission template (found here).


Competitors’ Resources

Please carefully review the contents of the Competitors’ Resources tab.  This tab includes the data sets described below, a sample submission to this contest, a submission template, and a document sharing “tips and tricks” for developing a generalized metric that effectively measures the practical utility of the privatized data.

Each submission should include a demonstration of the metric on at least one data set. The data may be real or synthesized.  NIST PSCR is providing one example of temporal map data that may be used, including 4 data sets: 1) a ground truth data set; 2) a privatized data set of poor quality; 3) a privatized data set of moderate quality; and 4) a supplementary data set with demographic characteristics of map segments. These data sets can be downloaded from the Competitors’ Resources tab. Additional information about the data can be found here.

Participants may use these provided data sets, or they may use or create their own. Any data sets used must be freely and publicly available (which included the provided data above), or created by the submitting participants. Preference is also given to data sets with usefulness for public safety.



This A Better Meter Stick for Differential Privacy Contest will award up to $29,000 to the top-ranked submissions and to submitted metrics receiving the most votes from public voting as follows:

A Better Meter Stick for Differential Privacy Prize Structure

(total prize purse of $29,000)

Technical Merit

Winners are selected by the Judges, based on the evaluation of submissions against the Judging Criteria.  Up to $25,000 will be awarded to winners in up to four tiers. Submissions that have similar quality scores may be given the same rankings with up to 10 winners total:

First prize:        Up to 2 winners of $5,000 

Second prize:    Up to 2 winners of $3,000 

Third prize:       Up to 3 winners of $2,000 

Fourth prize:     Up to 3 winners of $1,000

People’s Choice Prize

Winners are selected by public voting on submitted metrics that have been pre-vetted by NIST PSCR for compliance with minimum performance criteria.  Up to a total of $4,000 will be awarded to up to four winners. 

People’s Choice:  Up to 4 winners of $1,000



PreregistrationAugust 24, 2020
Open to submissionsOctober 1, 2020
Executive Summaries due for optional preliminary reviewNovember 30, 2020 10:00pm EST
Complete submissions dueJanuary 5, 2021 10:00pm EST
NIST PSCR Compliance check (for public voting)January 5-6, 2021
Public votingJanuary 7, 2021 9:00am EST - January 21, 2021 10:00pm EST
Judging and EvaluationJanuary 5 - February 2, 2021
Winners AnnouncedFebruary 4, 2021



Submissions to the Metric Paper Contest will undergo initial filtering to ensure they meet minimum criteria before they are reviewed and evaluated by members of the expert judging panel.  These minimum criteria include:

  • Submitter or submitting team meets eligibility requirements,
  • All required sections of the submission form are completed,
  • Proposed metric is coherently presented and plausible,
  • Each submission should contain only one metric.  Each individual/team lead is allowed one submission.

Submissions that have passed the initial filtering step will be reviewed for Technical Merit by members of the expert judging panel, evaluated against the evaluation criteria listed below, and scored based on the relative weightings shown.  

  • Clarity (30/100 points)
    • Metric explanation is clear and well written, defines jargon and does not assume any specific area of technical expertise. Pseudocode is clearly defined and easily understood.
    • Participants clearly address whether the proposed metric provides snapshot evaluation (quickly computable summary score) and/or deep dive evaluation (generates reports locating significant points of disparity between the real and synthetic data distributions), and explain how to apply it.
    • Participants thoroughly answer the questions, and provide clear guidance on metric limitations.
  • Utility (40/100 points)
    • The metric effectively distinguishes between real and synthetic data.
    • The metric represents a breadth of use cases for the data.
    • Motivating examples are clearly explained and fit the abstract problem definition.
    • Metric is innovative, unique, and likely to lead to greater, future improvements compared with other proposed metrics.
  • Robustness (30/100 points)
    • Metric is feasible to use for large volume use cases.
    • The metric has flexible parameters that control the focus, breadth, and rigor of evaluation.
    • The proposed metric is relevant in many different data applications that fit the abstract problem definition.


Submission Form

Each metric must be submitted as a separate submission. Metrics may be oriented towards map data, temporal sequence data, or combined temporal map data. Successful submissions to the Metric Paper Contest will include:

  • Submission Title
  • A brief description of the proposed metric,  (Note that this will be included with your title when identifying your metric during the public voting stage)
  • An introduction to the submitter or submitting team that includes brief background and expertise, and optional explanation of the author’s interest in the problem,
  • A PDF document, using the provided template, with a minimum length of 2 pages that thoughtfully and clearly addresses what the metric is, why it works, and how it addresses the needs of data users, drawing on results from application on data. The document must include the following three sections and address the points outlined below.

    • Executive Summary  (1-2 pages)
      Please provide a 1-2 page, easily readable review of the main ideas. This is likely to be especially useful for people reading multiple submissions during the public voting phase. The executive summary should be readily understood by a technical layperson and include:
      • The high-level explanation of the proposed metric, reasoning and rationale for why it works
      • An example use case
    • Metric Definition
      • Any technical background information needed to understand the metric. (Note that these metric write-ups should be accessible to technical experts from a diverse variety of disciplines.  Please provide clear definitions of any terms/tools that are specific to your field, and provide a clear explanation for any properties that will be relevant to your metric definition or defense.)
      • A written definition of the metric, including English explanation and pseudocode that has been clearly written and annotated with comments. Code can also be included (optionally) with the submission.
      • Explanation of parameters and configurations.  Note that this includes feature-specific configurations.  For instance, a metric could reference “demographic features” or “financial features” for specific treatment, and given a new data set with a new schema, the appropriate features could be specified in a configuration file without loss of generalizability.
      • Walk-through examples of metric use in snapshot mode (quickly computable summary score) and/or deep dive mode (generates reports locating significant points of disparity between the real and synthetic data distributions) as applicable to the metric.
    • Metric Defense
      • Describe the metric’s tuning properties that control the focus, breadth, and rigor of evaluation
      • Describe the discriminative power of the proposed metric: how well it identifies points of disparity between the ground truth and privatized data
      • Describe the coverage properties of the proposed metric: how well it abstracts/covers a breadth of uses for the data
      • Address the feasibility of implementing the proposed metric. For instance,  what is the computation time and resource requirements for the metric when running on data? How does the metric scale with an increase in variables, map segments, time segments, and records? This information may include empirical results (e.g. runtime) or theoretical results (e.g. mathematical properties). Feel free to provide assumptions about hardware (e.g. CPU model, memory, operating system) and feature constraints.
      • Provide an example of 2-3 very different data applications where the metric can be used.



All participants 18 years or older are invited to register to participate except for individuals from entities or countries sanctioned by the United States Government. 

A Participant (whether an individual, team, or legal entity) must have registered to participate in order to be an eligible Participant. 

Cash prizes are restricted to eligible Participants who have complied with all of the requirements under section 3719 of title 15, United States Code as contained herein. At the time of entry, the Official Representative (individual or team lead, in the case of a group project) must be age 18 or older and a U.S. citizen or permanent resident of the United States or its territories. In the case of NIST PSCR: Differential Privacy Temporal Map Challenge, Official Rules Page 18 of 24 a private entity, the business shall be incorporated in and maintain a place of business in the United States or its territories. 

Employees, contractors, directors and officers (including their spouses, parents, and/or children) of HeroX and DrivenData, Inc. and each of their respective parent companies, subsidiaries and affiliated companies, distributors, web design, advertising, fulfillment, judging and agencies involved in the administration, development, fulfillment and execution of this Challenge will not be eligible to compete in this Challenge. 

Participants may not be a Federal entity or Federal employee acting within the scope of their employment. Current and former NIST PSCR Federal employees or Associates are not eligible to compete in a prize challenge within one year from their exit date. Individuals currently receiving PSCR funding through a grant or cooperative agreement are eligible to compete but may not utilize the previous NIST funding for competing in this challenge. Previous and current PSCR prize challenge participants are eligible to compete. Non-NIST Federal employees acting in their personal capacities should consult with their respective agency ethics officials to determine whether their participation in this competition is permissible. A Participant shall not be deemed ineligible because the Participant consulted with Federal employees or used Federal facilities in preparing its entry to the Challenge if the Federal employees and facilities are made available to all Participants on an equitable basis. 

Participants, including individuals and private entities, must not have been convicted of a felony criminal violation under any Federal law within the preceding 24 months and must not have any unpaid Federal tax liability that has been assessed, for which all judicial and administrative remedies have been exhausted or have lapsed, and that is not being paid in a timely manner pursuant to an agreement with the authority responsible for collecting the tax liability. Participants must not be suspended, debarred, or otherwise excluded from doing business with the Federal Government. 

Multiple individuals and/or legal entities may collaborate as a group to submit a single entry and a single individual from the group must be designated as an Official Representative for each entry. That designated individual will be responsible for meeting all entry and evaluation requirements.



Please see the Official Rules on for rules and complete terms and conditions.


Challenge Updates

Congratulations to the Challenge Winners!

Feb. 4, 2021, 9 a.m. PST by Natalie York

Congratulations to the Better Meter Stick for Differential Privacy Challenge Winners!

Thank you to all the contestants and everyone who made this contest a success. The judges were impressed and excited by many of the innovative ideas in the entries.  

Judges reviewed and determined 4 entries to be eligible for the Technical Merit prizes and the Public Choice prizes. Please see below to read about the winning teams and entries.

Selected metrics developed by the winners may be used to evaluate differential privacy algorithms submitted to sprint 3 of the Differential Privacy Temporal Map Contest.

First Prize: $5,000

One First Prize award was granted.

Submission Name: MGD: A Utility Metric for Private Data Publication

Team member(s): Ninghui Li, Trung Đặng Đoàn Đức, Zitao Li, Tianhao Wang

Location: West Lafayette, IN; Vietnam; China

Affiliation: Purdue University

Who is your team and what do you do professionally?

We are a research group from Purdue University working on differential privacy. Our research group has been conducting research on data privacy for about 15 years, with a focus on differential privacy for the most recent decade. Our group has developed state-of-the-art algorithms for several tasks under the constraint of satisfying Differential Privacy and Local Differential Privacy.

What motivated you to compete in this challenge?

We have expertise in differential privacy. We also participated in earlier competitions held by NIST and got very positive results. We believe this is a good opportunity to think more about real world problems and explore the designs of metrics for evaluating quality of private dataset.

High level summary of approach

We propose MarGinal Difference (MGD), a utility metric for private data publication. MGDassigns a difference score between  the  synthesized dataset and the  ground truth dataset.  The high level idea behind MGD is to measure the differences between many pairs marginal tables, each pair having one computed from the two datasets.  For measuring the difference between a pair of marginal  tables, we  introduce  Approximate Earth  Mover  Cost, which  considers  both semantic meanings of attribute values and the noisy nature of the synthesized dataset.

Second Prize: $3,000

Two Second Prize awards were granted.

Submission Name: Practical DP Metrics

Team Member(s): Bolin Ding, Xiaokui Xiao, Ergute Bao, Jianxin Wei, Kuntai Cai

Location: China

Affiliations: Alibaba Group and the National University of SIngapore

  1. Who is your team and what do you do professionally?

We are a group of researchers interested in differential privacy.

2. What motivated you to compete in this challenge? 

To apply our research on differential privacy in a practical setting. 

3. High level summary of approach

We introduce four additional metrics for the temporal data challenge, evaluating the Jaccard  distance, heavy hitters, and horizontal and vertical correlations. We motivate these metrics  with real-world applications. We show that these additional metrics can complement the JSD  metric currently used in the challenge, to provide more comprehensive evaluation.


Submission Title: Confusion Matrix Metric

Team Member(s): Sowmya Srinivasan

Location: Alameda, California

Who are you and what do you do professionally?

My name is Sowmya and I am a Data Analyst/Scientist with a background in Astrophysics. At the moment, I am employed by as a Data Intern but am seeking a full-time position as a Data Analyst/Data Scientist. I have a certificate from a Data Analytics and Visualization bootcamp and I have a lot of experience working with large datasets thanks to the bootcamp as well as my Astrophysics background. When I am not working on projects my hobbies include reading and cooking.

What motivated you to compete in this challenge?

I was looking into expanding my understanding of data science/analytics and decided to browse on to see if there were any projects I could apply my current knowledge to and found this challenge. I was immediately interested in the motivation as I am highly intrigued by privacy methods and how to work with them. In addition, I have been looking into learning more about metrics so that was also appealing.



High level summary of approach

The confusion matrix metric is essentially a more complex version of the pie chart metric provided for the challenge. The pie chart metric consists of three components: one that evaluates the Jensen-Shannon distance between the privatized and ground truth data, one that penalizes false positives in privatized data, and one that penalizes large total differences between the privatized and ground truth data. The confusion matrix metric adds two elements onto this metric: an element that penalizes for large shifts in values within a record as well as an element that measures the differences in time-series pattern between the ground truth and the privatized dataset. The first element is evaluated through binning values and adding on a penalty if the values change bins after privatization. The second element uses the r-squared value between the two over a chosen time-segment. 

The confusion matrix representation shows the percent of false positives and false negatives in a privatized record. Its purpose is to provide an easy way to view the utility of a particular record or the entire dataset. 

Another visualization that may be insightful is the bar chart depicting the component that penalizes for change in rank. This is a way to show how the values are separated into bins and how those bin sizes compare with those of the ground truth dataset. 


Third Prize: $2,000

One Third Prize award was granted.

Submission Title: Bounding Utility Loss via Classifiers

Team Member(s): Leo Hentschker and Kevin Lee

Location: Montclair, New Jersey and Irvine, California 

Who are you and what do you do professionally?

Leo Hentschker: After his freshman year at Harvard, Leo dropped out to help found Quorum Analytics, a legislative affairs software startup focused on building a "Google for Congress." After helping to scale the company and returning to school, he graduated in three years with honors with a degree in mathematics. He is now the CTO at Column, an early stage startup focused on improving the utility of public interest information.

Kevin Lee: Kevin is a PhD student in economics at the University of Chicago, Booth School of Business, studying the design of platform markets. He is interested in fixing market failures in digital advertising and how reputation systems shape incentives for product quality. In the past he won 2nd place in the Intel Science Talent Search and graduated with a degree in applied math from Harvard.


Description automatically generated with low confidence

What motivated you to compete in this challenge?

At Column, Leo has seen first hand how the lack of transparency hurts local communities across the country, and how improper applications of privacy can leave individuals vulnerable. Formal guarantees around utility of privatized datasets would meaningfully improve Column's ability to disclose public interest information in a way that is useful to the public and protects individual privacy.

Kevin believes that tensions between transparency and privacy create inefficient market structures that harm consumers and companies. Principled application of differential privacy has the potential to resolve this tradeoff.

Summary of approach

If a classifier can easily distinguish between privatized and ground truth data, the datasets are fundamentally different, and the privatized data should not be used for downstream analysis. Conversely, if a classifier cannot distinguish them, we should feel comfortable using the privatized data going forward. In the latter case, we prove that any classifier from the same function family will have essentially the same loss on your private and ground truth data.

We define a normalized version of this maximum difference in loss as the separability and provide an algorithm for computing it empirically.

People's Choice Prize: $1,000

One People's Choice award was granted.

Submission Name: Confusion Matrix Metric

Team Member(s): Sowmya Srinivasan

Opportunity for Participants - CALL FOR PAPERS: Synthetic Data Generation: Quality, Privacy, Bias

Jan. 27, 2021, noon PST by Natalie York

We would like to pass on an opportunity that may be of interest to the Better Stick for Differential Privacy community.

Call for Papers

Despite the substantial benefits from using synthetic data, the process of synthetic data generation is still an ongoing technical challenge. Although the two scenarios of limited data and privacy concerns share similar technical challenges such as quality and fairness, they are often studied separately. We invite researchers to submit papers that discuss challenges and advances in synthetic data generation, including but not limited to the following topics.

  • How can we evaluate the quality of synthetically generated datasets?
  • How can we handle mixed-type datasets such as tabular data with both categorical and continuous variables?
  • How can we generate synthetic samples to augment rare samples or limited labeled data?
  • How can we address privacy violations, measure privacy leakage, and provide probable privacy guarantees?
  • How can we retain semantic meaning of original samples in the synthetic data?
  • What are the right datasets/applications/benchmarks to propel this research area forward?
  • How can we measure and mitigate biases, and thereby ensure fairness in data synthesis?

Selected papers will be presented at the 1st Synthetic Data Generation workshop at ICLR 2021 on May 8, 2021.

Papers are due February 26, 2021. Selected papers will be determined and notified by March 26, 2021.

Submission Requirements

Submissions in the form of extended abstracts must be at most 4 pages long (not including references; additional supplementary material may be submitted but may be ignored by reviewers), anonymized, and adhere to the ICLR format. We encourage submissions of work that are new to the synthetic data generation community. Submissions solely based on work that has been previously published in machine learning conferences or relevant venues are not suitable for the workshop. On the other hand, we allow submission of works currently under submission and relevant works recently published in relevant venues. The workshop will not have formal proceedings, but authors of accepted abstracts can choose to have a link to arxiv or a pdf added on the workshop webpage.

Submission Link:


Public voting ends tomorrow!

Jan. 20, 2021, 9 a.m. PST by Natalie York

Voting for the people's choice awards ends tomorrow at 10pm EST. Get your votes in for your favourite submission at

Reminder to get your votes in!

Jan. 14, 2021, 6 a.m. PST by Natalie York

Remember to read the public submissions and vote for which one you think deserves a Peoples Choice Award.

Go to to cast your vote.

Voting closes on January 21st 10pm EST. 

Public Voting is Live!

Jan. 7, 2021, 6 a.m. PST by Natalie York

Public voting for the people's choice awards is now live. 

We encourage you to invite your friends, family, colleagues, and others interested in differential privacy to read the public submissions and vote! Interested parties are required to create a HeroX account to cast their vote. To vote, go to

Voting is live until January 21st 10pm EST.