Rate-Optimal Rank Aggregation with Private Pairwise Rankings

26 Feb 2024  ·  SHIRONG XU, Will Wei Sun, Guang Cheng ·

In various real-world scenarios like recommender systems and political surveys, pairwise rankings are commonly collected and utilized for rank aggregation to obtain an overall ranking of items. However, preference rankings can reveal individuals' personal preferences, underscoring the need to protect them before releasing for downstream analysis. In this paper, we address the challenge of preserving privacy while ensuring the utility of rank aggregation based on pairwise rankings generated from the Bradley-Terry-Luce (BTL) model. Using the randomized response mechanism to perturb raw pairwise rankings is a common privacy protection strategy used in practice, but a critical challenge arises because the privatized rankings no longer adhere to the BTL model, resulting in significant bias in downstream rank aggregation tasks. Motivated from this, we propose a debiased randomized response mechanism to protect the raw pairwise rankings, ensuring consistent estimation of true preferences and rankings in downstream rank aggregation. Theoretically, we offer insights into the relationship between overall privacy guarantees and estimation errors from private ranking data, and establish minimax rates for estimation errors. This enables the determination of optimal privacy guarantees that balance consistency in rank aggregation with robust privacy protection. We also investigate convergence rates of expected ranking errors for partial and full ranking recovery, quantifying how privacy protection influences the specification of top-$K$ item sets and complete rankings. Our findings are validated through extensive simulations and a real application.

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