Recent increase in online privacy concerns prompts the following question: can a recommender system be accurate if users do not entrust it with their private data? To answer this, we study the problem of learning item-clusters under local differential privacy, a powerful, formal notion of data privacy. We develop bounds on the sample-complexity of learning item-clusters from privatized user inputs. Significantly, our results identify a sample-complexity separation between learning in an information-rich and an information-scarce regime, thereby highlighting the interaction between privacy and the amount of information (ratings) available to each user. In the information-rich regime, where each user rates at least a constant fraction of items, a spectral clustering approach is shown to achieve a sample-complexity lower bound derived from a simple information-theoretic argument based on Fano’s inequality. However, the information-scarce regime, where each user rates only a vanishing fraction of items, is found to require a fundamentally different approach both for lower bounds and algorithms. To this end, we develop new techniques for bounding mutual information under a notion of channel-mismatch. These techniques may be of broader interest, and we illustrate this by applying them to (i) learning based on 1-bit sketches, and (ii) adaptive learning. Finally, we propose a new algorithm, MaxSense, and show that it achieves optimal sample-complexity in the information-scarce regime.
Earlier conference version: Banerjee et al. (2012).