Terry College economics professor Ian M. Schmutte received a three-year, $535,970 grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to study “the Economics of Socially-Efficient Privacy and Confidentiality Management for Statistical Agencies.”
Schmutte will collaborate with John M. Abowd and Lars Vilhuber of Cornell University’s Labor Dynamics Institute to evaluate the optimal trade-off between accuracy and privacy in published data.
The grant will allow the researchers to create a library of state-of-the-art algorithms for privacy protection. Their research will determine what trade-offs between privacy and accuracy are possible, by assessing how different methods affect accuracy and privacy when applied to real research problems conducted on large-scale databases. The grant will also support research on what trade-offs are desirable, through the development of new measures of individual and social preferences for privacy protection and data accuracy.
The results of the research will be submitted for publication in peer-reviewed journals in economics and statistics. The PIs will also summarize their findings in a policy handbook for public statistical agencies on the most promising methods to manage confidential information resources to maximal social benefit. Their research should result in improved access to the sort of detailed, but confidential, databases, on which social scientists increasingly rely, while preserving individual privacy. The increase in access has a multiplier—future researchers will be able to reach new findings, and better inform policy, and their results can be used to improve the published data.