The Census Bureau and many large Internet companies like Google and Apple have adopted formal models for privacy protection in their publications and research. While the technical details of these models are fascinating, their implications for how we live and work in a world where vast amounts of data are processed daily to learn about us are far more important. Privacy protection and statistical accuracy are competing uses of the same good: the information in confidential databases. Engineers design the algorithms for implementing the analysis with privacy protection. But society needs to decide which statistics need to be more accurate than other statistics. That's not an engineering decision, that's a public policy decision. I will talk about how to think about that public policy.
John M. Abowd is Chief Scientist and Associate Director for Research and Methodology at the United States Census Bureau and the Edmund Ezra Day Professor of Economics, Professor of Statistics and Information Science at Cornell University (on leave). At the Census Bureau, he leads a directorate of research centers, each devoted to domains of investigation important to the future of social and economic statistics. At Cornell, his primary appointment is in the Department of Economics in the ILR School. He is also Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research (on leave while serving in the federal government), Research Affiliate at the Centre de Recherche en Economie et Statistique (CREST, Paris, France), Research Fellow at the Institute for Labor Economics (IZA, Bonn, Germany), and Research Fellow at IAB. Abowd is the Director of the Labor Dynamics Institute at Cornell. His current research and many activities of the LDI focus on the creation, dissemination, privacy protection, and use of linked, longitudinal data on employees and employers. Prof. Abowd’s other research interests include network models for integrated labor market data; international comparisons of labor market outcomes; executive compensation with a focus on international comparisons; bargaining and other wage-setting institutions; and the econometric tools of labor market analysis. Prof. Abowd served on the faculty at Princeton University, the University of Chicago, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before moving to Cornell.