What is Synthetic Data Generation?

Synthetic Data Generation Definition

Synthetic data generation refers to the process of creating artificial data that mimics the statistical characteristics and structure of real-world data. This synthetic data is generated using algorithms and models rather than being collected from actual observations or measurements. Synthetic data generation plays a crucial role in balancing the needs for privacy protection and data quality in various applications, including research, healthcare, finance, and marketing.

Synthetic Data Generation FAQs

Synthetic Data Generation Overview

In the context of data privacy, synthetic data generation involves creating artificial data that maintains the statistical characteristics of the original data while eliminating any sensitive or personally identifiable information. This is done to protect the privacy of individuals whose data is being used for analysis or research.

In the context of data quality, synthetic data generation can also be used to address issues such as data imbalance, missing values, or outliers. By generating synthetic data, researchers can ensure that the dataset is representative and balanced, which can improve the performance of machine learning models and statistical analyses.

Synthetic data can be used to augment existing datasets, thereby increasing their size and diversity. This can be particularly useful in situations where collecting additional real data is costly or time-consuming.

When developing applications for new systems lacking pre-existing data, you’ll want to generate synthetic data to match sample data. In such cases, data masking is impractical, yet test data is necessary for assessing functionality or creating non-existent data volumes. Synthetic data generation tools provide a solution by enabling users to define and populate data types, columns, and tables with realistic, representative data.

How is Synthetic Data Generated?

Synthetic data can be generated using various techniques and algorithms, depending on the specific requirements of the application and the characteristics of the original data. Here are some common methods used for generation of synthetic data:

Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs)

GANs consist of two neural networks: a generator and a discriminator. The generator generates synthetic data samples, while the discriminator tries to distinguish between real and synthetic data. Through an adversarial training process, the synthetic data generator learns to create increasingly realistic synthetic data while the discriminator learns to better differentiate between real and fake data.

Variational Autoencoders (VAEs)

VAEs are another type of generative model that learns to generate synthetic data by encoding real data into a latent space and then decoding it back into the original data space. VAEs learn the probability distribution of the input data and generate new samples by sampling from this distribution.

Statistical Models

Simple statistical models such as Gaussian distributions, mixture models, or Markov chains can be used to generate synthetic data that follows similar statistical properties as the original data. These models are often used when the data has known statistical distributions or relationships.

Data Augmentation Techniques

Data augmentation techniques such as rotation, translation, scaling, or adding noise can be applied to existing data to generate new synthetic samples. These techniques are commonly used in computer vision and natural language processing tasks to increase the diversity of the training dataset.

Rule-Based Approaches

In some cases, synthetic data can be generated based on domain-specific rules or heuristics. For example, in healthcare, synthetic patient data can be generated based on known medical conditions, demographics, and treatment protocols.

Sampling and Interpolation

Sampling techniques such as bootstrapping or interpolation can be used to generate synthetic data points by resampling from the original data or interpolating between existing data points.

Data Transformation and Masking

Sensitive attributes in the original data can be transformed or masked to generate synthetic data that preserves the overall statistical properties while removing identifiable information. This approach is commonly used for privacy-preserving data generation.

The choice of synthetic data generation methods depends on factors such as the nature of the data, the desired level of realism, privacy considerations, and the specific requirements of the application.

What are the Benefits of Synthetic Data Generation?

Synthetic data generation offers several benefits across various domains and applications:

  • Privacy Protection: Synthetic data can be generated to retain the statistical properties of the original data while eliminating any sensitive or personally identifiable information. This enables organizations to share or analyze data without risking privacy violations.
  • Data Diversity and Augmentation: Synthetic data generation can be used to increase the diversity and size of datasets, which is particularly useful in scenarios where collecting large amounts of real data is impractical or expensive. Augmenting datasets with synthetic data can improve the robustness and generalization capabilities of machine learning models.
  • Data Imbalance Correction: Synthetic data generation can address class imbalances in datasets by creating additional samples for underrepresented classes. This helps improve the performance of machine learning models, especially in classification tasks where certain classes are rare.
  • Cost and Time Savings: Generating synthetic data can be more cost-effective and time-efficient compared to collecting and labeling real data, especially in domains where data collection is labor-intensive or requires specialized equipment.
  • Data Sharing and Collaboration: Synthetic data can be shared more freely between organizations, researchers, and collaborators, as it does not contain sensitive or confidential information. This facilitates collaboration and knowledge sharing while maintaining data privacy.
  • Simulation and Testing: Synthetic data can be used to simulate different scenarios or conditions for testing purposes, such as evaluating the performance of algorithms, validating software applications, or conducting virtual experiments. This helps reduce the risk and cost associated with real-world testing.
  • Data Quality Improvement: Synthetic data generation techniques can be used to address data quality issues such as missing values, outliers, or noise. By generating synthetic data that adheres to known statistical properties, researchers can improve the overall quality and integrity of the dataset.
  • Risk Reduction: Synthetic data can be used to mitigate risks associated with using real data, such as data breaches, data leakage, or regulatory compliance issues. By working with synthetic data, organizations can minimize the potential impact of data-related risks while still achieving their analytical goals.

Overall, synthetic data generation offers a versatile and effective approach for addressing various challenges related to data privacy, diversity, quality, and accessibility across different domains and applications.

What are the Best Practices in Synthetic Data Generation?

When generating synthetic data, it's essential to follow best practices to ensure that the generated data is accurate, representative, and useful for the intended purposes. Here are some key best practices in synthetic data generation:

Understand the Data

Before generating synthetic data, thoroughly understand the characteristics, distributions, and relationships within the original dataset. This understanding will guide the selection of appropriate generation techniques and ensure that the synthetic data accurately reflects the properties of the real data.

Preserve Privacy

If privacy is a concern, employ techniques such as differential privacy, data masking, or anonymization to ensure that the synthetic data does not contain sensitive or personally identifiable information. Adhere to relevant data protection regulations and ethical guidelines.

Maintain Statistical Properties

Ensure that the synthetic data maintains the statistical properties of the original data, including distributions, correlations, and data relationships. Use generation techniques that preserve these properties to ensure that the synthetic data accurately represents the underlying patterns in the real data.

Validate and Evaluate

Validate the quality and utility of the synthetic data by comparing it against the original data using statistical metrics, visualization techniques, or downstream analysis tasks. Evaluate how well the synthetic data preserves important features and patterns, and iteratively refine the generation process if necessary.

Consider Data Complexity

Consider the complexity and heterogeneity of the original data when selecting synthetic data generation techniques. Different techniques may be more suitable for structured data, unstructured data, time-series data, or high-dimensional data. Choose techniques that can effectively capture the complexity of the data.

Address Data Imbalance

If the original dataset suffers from class imbalance, use synthetic data generation techniques to create additional samples for underrepresented classes. Ensure that the synthetic data maintains the class distribution and does not introduce bias into the analysis or modeling process.

Generate Sufficient Diversity

Aim to generate synthetic data that captures the full range of variability present in the original dataset. Incorporate randomness or variability into the data generation process to create diverse samples that reflect the inherent variability in the real-world data.

Document the Generation Process

Document the synthetic data generation process, including the techniques used, parameters chosen, and any assumptions made. This documentation helps ensure transparency, reproducibility, and accountability in the generation process.

Iterate and Refine

Synthetic data generation is often an iterative process. Continuously evaluate the quality and effectiveness of the generated data and refine the generation process as needed based on feedback and insights gained from validation and evaluation.

By following these best practices, organizations can effectively leverage synthetic data generation to address various challenges related to data privacy, diversity, quality, and accessibility, while ensuring that the generated data accurately represents the underlying patterns in the original data.

What are Synthetic Data Generation Examples?

There is a wide range of applications and domains that use synthetic data generation companies to provide synthetic data to simulate real-world scenarios, support research, or train machine learning models. Some examples include: 

Healthcare and Medical Research

Generating synthetic patient data for training machine learning models without compromising patient privacy. This can include generating synthetic electronic health records (EHRs), medical images, or physiological signals for tasks such as disease prediction, diagnosis, and treatment optimization.

Finance and Risk Management

Generating synthetic financial data for simulating market scenarios and assessing risk. This can involve generating synthetic stock prices, trading volumes, or credit card transactions for modeling financial instruments, portfolio management, and fraud detection.

Retail and E-commerce

Generating synthetic customer data for market analysis and recommendation systems. This can include generating synthetic purchase histories, product reviews, or user behavior patterns for personalization, segmentation, and targeted marketing.


Generating synthetic network traffic data for evaluating and improving cybersecurity defenses. This can involve generating synthetic logs of network activity, intrusion attempts, or malware behavior for training anomaly detection systems and testing security protocols.

Transportation and Urban Planning

Generating synthetic traffic data for simulating traffic flow and optimizing transportation systems. This can include generating synthetic GPS trajectories, traffic congestion patterns, or vehicle movement data for urban planning, route optimization, and traffic management.

Manufacturing and Supply Chain Management

Generating synthetic production data for optimizing manufacturing processes and supply chain operations. This can involve generating synthetic sensor data, production logs, or quality control records for predictive maintenance, inventory management, and supply chain optimization.

Energy and Utilities

Generating synthetic energy consumption data for optimizing energy distribution and resource allocation. This can include generating synthetic smart meter data, renewable energy generation forecasts, or grid operation logs for energy planning and demand forecasting.

Education and Training

Generating synthetic educational data for developing and evaluating educational tools and systems. This can involve generating synthetic student performance data, learning outcomes, or assessment results for adaptive learning platforms and personalized tutoring systems.

Environmental Science

Generating synthetic environmental data for studying and modeling natural phenomena. This can include generating synthetic weather data, climate simulations, or ecological biodiversity patterns for environmental monitoring, disaster preparedness, and climate change research.

Social Sciences and Policy Analysis

Generating synthetic demographic and socio-economic data for policy analysis and decision-making. This can involve generating synthetic census data, household surveys, or economic indicators for assessing social welfare programs, urban development policies, and public health interventions.

What is Synthetic Data Generation Software?

Synthetic data generation software refers to the tools and platforms that facilitate the creation of artificial or synthetic data for various purposes, including machine learning, data analysis, testing, and simulation. Synthetic data generation tools typically offer features for generating data that mimic the statistical properties and patterns of real-world data while ensuring privacy, diversity, and quality.

Does Gretel Provide Synthetic Data Generation Solutions?

Gretel is the synthetic data platform for developers. Gretel’s APIs make it simple to generate anonymized and safe synthetic data so you can innovate faster while preserving privacy. With Gretel's complete multimodal synthetic data platform, it’s easier than ever to generate synthetic data from real data with the same characteristics, so you can develop and test AI models without compromising privacy; train generative AI models that learn the statistical properties of your data; and validate your models and use cases with Gretel’s quality and privacy scores. 

Watch the video below to get insights on how to generate synthetic data with Gretel.

Learn more about Gretel’s synthetic data platform for developers.