Why Social Scientists Must Actively Participate in the Privacy Debate

John Abowd, Cornell/Census


When Google or the US Census Bureau publishes detailed statistics on browsing habits or neighborhood characteristics, some privacy is lost for everybody while supplying public information. To date, economists have not focused on the privacy loss inherent in data publication. In their stead, these issues have been advanced almost exclusively by computer scientists who are primarily interested in technical problems associated with protecting privacy. Economists should join the discussion, first to determine where to balance privacy protection against data quality—a social choice problem. Furthermore, economists must ensure new privacy models preserve the validity of public data for economic research.

DOI: 10.1257/pandp.20191106