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When Google or the U.S. Census Bureau publish 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.


Abowd, Sexton, and Vilhuber: U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC, USA and Cornell University, Ives Hall, Ithaca, NY, USA. Schmutte: U.S. Census Bureau and University of Georgia, Amos Hall, Athens, GA, USA. This research was partially funded through NSF Grant #1131848 (NCRN) and Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Grant G-2015-13903. The views expressed in this paper are those of the authors and not those of the U.S. Census Bureau or other sponsors.

Published as:

Abowd, John M., Ian M. Schmutte, William N. Sexton, and Lars Vilhuber. 2019. "Why the Economics Profession Must Actively Participate in the Privacy Protection Debate." AEA Papers and Proceedings, 109 : 397-402.

DOI: 10.1257/pandp.20191106

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