The PEP Report – November 2018

The Federal Trade Commission is hosting a series of hearings on Big Data to air and understand our current evidence base. Last week, the hearings on “Competition and Consumer Protection in the 21st Century” were held at American University Washington College of Law. (You can watch the speakers here.) This post will provide a summary of the first panel of the hearings, which I thought was one of the highlights of the event.

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The PEP Report – October 2018

by Jane Bambauer

Welcome to the inaugural PEP Report, an occasional (roughly monthly) roundup of news, research, and events related to privacy and economics.

A lot is happening this year, including upcoming public hearings at the FTC on big data and consumer protection and the recent passage of California’s Consumer Privacy Protection Act. Future PEP Reports will focus on those developments. For now, I would like to highlight research presented at the 46th TPRC Conference on Communications, Information, and Internet Policy.

TPRC recently took place at American University Washington College of Law. (NB: It’s called TPRC because it used to stand for the Telecommunications Policy Research Conference, but the scope has since expanded to include the Internet, of course.) As usual, TPRC brought together a great lineup of papers from multiple disciplines tackling current and future problems in communications policy. Below are my thoughts on some of my favorite papers.

One note about the conference over all: TPRC has had a Privacy/Security track for several years now, but some of my favorite papers were in other tracks, and had only brief discussions of privacy law. This is telling. Too often, the authors of privacy papers are not forced to be in conversation with researchers who are trying to optimize the utility of information and communications technologies, and vice versa. In the future, I would love to see authors and audiences of privacy and data use papers in the same room so that tensions can be aired, acknowledged, and accounted for.

Click below to read about some of my favorite privacy-related papers from TPRC

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Scalia Law Students: An Opportunity to Attend the TPRC Research Conference on Communications, Information, and Internet Policy for Free

American University College of Law will host the TPRC Research Conference on Communications, Information, and Internet Policy on September 21-22. This is a terrific, multidisciplinary conference. If you are writing a student note or other research paper about Internet policy and would like to attend, please send me an email at jyakowit@gmu.edu. As an academic sponsor, PEP can send one student to the whole conference for free.

For more information and the program agenda, visit the TPRC website here:

http://www.tprcweb.com/

Greetings from Jane Yakowitz Bambauer, the New Director of PEP

I am honored and excited to carry on the unique work of the Program on Economics & Privacy. PEP is a great match for me because my interest in privacy law grew out of my experience running an economics research program.

The research had nothing to do with privacy, but it used quantitative methods and was very dependent on access to data. I started to notice that the things I found most exciting about the Big Data revolution as an engine for rapidly expanding human knowledge and problem-solving was on a collision course with public distrust and consumer protection regulations. My comfort with, and appreciation for, quantitative methods give me an atypical perspective in the privacy policy community. I have openly questioned whether the most popular privacy proposals have defined the anticipated social problems with enough clarity, and whether there is a sufficient basis for alarm based on the available evidence.

PEP promotes and facilitates both types of academic work– research that defines a personal data problem with precision, and research that measures and analyzes the effects of modern data practices. This is invaluable work because we are entering a critical period for the digital economy and its regulation.

Outside of PEP, many of the policy discussions adopt the standard model for privacy protection, based on some variation of the Fair Information Practices. Those practices are built on outdated assumptions about how information can be collected and used, whereby the anticipated benefits and problems of digitized information are no different from a large warehouse of individual files handled by a very fast clerk. The FIPs are poorly designed when the benefits and problems stem from an entirely different model—where filtering and machine learning can make inferences and perform constrained optimization. Consequently, traditional privacy regulations that attempt to enforce notice and consent have a very crude relationship to the risks of Big Data. The risks that we need to understand are related to the societal effects of constrained optimization—whether the goal of optimization has repercussions that the market is unlikely to correct, for example. The traditional approach to privacy cannot do this work. The traditional approach was designed to resist large scale collection, sharing, and unexpected uses of personal data, yet these are critical elements for the success and social benefits of Big Data. Rapid improvements in service and innovation, for example, require data to be repurposed.

This year, PEP will facilitate economic research on Big Data policy issues through a works-in-progress workshop in December. We will share some of the leading research in this area at a public conference on May 10th here at the law school. Please mark your calendars. We will also prepare comments for upcoming Federal Trade Commission hearings on privacy and big data.

Please get in touch with me if you have suggestions for issues that PEP should address or research that PEP should promote. I would love to hear from you. My email is jyakowit@gmu.edu.