Rohde, F. ; Franke, M. ; Sehili, Z. ; Lablans, M. ; Rahm, E.

Optimization of the Mainzelliste software for fast privacy-preserving record linkage

BMC Journal of Translational Medicine

2021 / 01


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Data analysis for biomedical research often requires a record linkage step to identify records from multiple data sources referring to the same person. Due to the lack of unique personal identifiers across these sources, record linkage relies on the similarity of personal data such as first and last names or birth dates. However, the exchange of such identifying data with a third party, as is the case in record linkage, is generally subject to strict privacy requirements. This problem is addressed by privacy-preserving record linkage (PPRL) and pseudonymization services. Mainzelliste is an open-source record linkage and pseudonymization service used to carry out PPRL processes in real-world use cases.

We evaluate the linkage quality and performance of the linkage process using several real and near-real datasets with different properties w.r.t. size and error-rate of matching records. We conduct a comparison between (plaintext) record linkage and PPRL based on encoded records (Bloom filters). Furthermore, since the Mainzelliste software offers no blocking mechanism, we extend it by phonetic blocking as well as novel blocking schemes based on locality-sensitive hashing (LSH) to improve runtime for both standard and privacy-preserving record linkage.

The Mainzelliste achieves high linkage quality for PPRL using field-level Bloom filters due to the use of an error-tolerant matching algorithm that can handle variances in names, in particular missing or transposed name compounds. However, due to the absence of blocking, the runtimes are unacceptable for real use cases with larger datasets. The newly implemented blocking approaches improve runtimes by orders of magnitude while retaining high linkage quality.