How Private are DP-SGD Implementations?

ICML 2024(2024)

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Abstract
We demonstrate a substantial gap between the privacy guarantees of the Adaptive Batch Linear Queries (ABLQ) mechanism under different types of batch sampling: (i) Shuffling, and (ii) Poisson subsampling; the typical analysis of Differentially Private Stochastic Gradient Descent (DP-SGD) follows by interpreting it as a post-processing of ABLQ. While shuffling-based DP-SGD is more commonly used in practical implementations, it has not been amenable to easy privacy analysis, either analytically or even numerically. On the other hand, Poisson subsampling-based DP-SGD is challenging to scalably implement, but has a well-understood privacy analysis, with multiple open-source numerically tight privacy accountants available. This has led to a common practice of using shuffling-based DP-SGD in practice, but using the privacy analysis for the corresponding Poisson subsampling version. Our result shows that there can be a substantial gap between the privacy analysis when using the two types of batch sampling, and thus advises caution in reporting privacy parameters for DP-SGD.
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