John Makepeace Bennett Award
The John Makepeace Bennet award is made for the "best" PhD thesis in our field, finalised during the year. This award was renamed the "John Makepeace Bennett Award" in 2011 in recognition of his enormous contribution to the field.
This year's John Makepeace Bennett Award for best PhD goes to Dr Natasha Fernandes from Macquarie University for a thesis entitled “Differential Privacy for Metric Spaces: Information-Theoretic Models for Privacy and Utility with New Applications to Metric Domains”.
Dr Fernandes' thesis on metric differential privacy contributes both theoretical and applied results on parameter selection, comparing privacy mechanisms, inference attacks and optimality. The thesis organisation is exceptional in the thought put into the narrative for foundations, analysis, and applications of the research contributions.
The panel found the examiners' comments on originality and innovation compelling, in observing that the thesis showed a remarkable level of sophistication and improve[s] considerably over the state of the art, and noting its significance and scale. The panel was impressed by the range and depth of her results. Her approach based on Quantitative Information Flow, and on a new application of geometric ideas in the data privacy setting, allowed for a unified framework for privacy, utility and attacks and new insights for comparing privacy mechanisms. The panel felt that the optimality result of the Laplacian mechanism, and the techniques she had to develop to prove it, are particularly impactful. The thesis is also exceptionally well presented, not only mathematically rigorous but also enjoyable to read.