If I had a database of customer names and I'm to transfer it to another party, how much scrubbing can be done until it's no longer personal information?

If I abbreviated customer names like John Doe to J.D., is this still considered personal information?

Basically how reducible is personal information until it's no longer personal information?

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    If this is related to GDPR, then personal data is personal data until fully anonymized. If you're still able to single out individuals, it's not anonymized (see Dale M's analysis in the answers). Even pseudonyms such as random IDs could still be personal data, especially if you retain a key mapping IDs to original names. – amon Oct 4 at 7:36

Basically how reducible is personal information until it's no longer personal information?

When it can no longer be used, alone or combined with other data, to identify a person (or small number of people).

Context matters, if you have data on the people in say New York City, (pop. 8 million+) there are only 676 2 letter initials which averages out to about 12,000 each BUT initials are not uniformly distributed: there are a lot more JS out there than XX. In fact XX could be so rare that you can identify an individual in NYC just from this.

Of course, if you are using all initials then in, English speaking countries most people have 3 names and so, 3 initials; this not only reduces the number of people in each “bucket” it makes it way easier to identify unique individuals with 2, 4, 5 or more names.

If your data set is smaller than this and people have a way of working out who was in your data, then the prospect of being able to identify an individual just from their initials is much greater. For example, my family has 4 individuals and there are 4 unique first initials so in that group, the initial clearly identifies each of us.

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  • while name, middle name, surname is common in many English speaking countries, that's not global. In Germany, there is no "middle" name (outside Ostfriesland for Patronyms) but the order of names is fixed in the papers; there is no space provided for any "middle name" in forms, it expects the full column of (legally up to 5) given names or any one first name you use to identify yourself with, unless there is a hyphen which enforces that all parts of it are used as the proper name. So a Jo Ann Schmidt could be Jo Schmidt or Ann Schmidt, but Jo-Ann Schmidt is always Jo-Ann Schmidt. – Trish Oct 4 at 10:52

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