Privacy / Security

Why aren’t more statisticians involved in data privacy?

In a poll conducted among statisticians in August 2013 by Revolution Analytics, 88% of respondents answered ‘yes’ to the question, ‘Should consumers worry about privacy issues related to the data that is being collected on them?’ Given recent media stories about discomfiting uses of consumer data and predictive models – not to mention the recent rash of data breaches – it’s not exactly surprising that such levels of concern for consumers were reflected in the survey.

Now, our poll wasn’t a scientific, randomized survey: the 865 respondents were self-selected from the attendees of the 2013 ASA Joint Statistics Meetings held in Montreal. (Users of the Wi-Fi service provided at the conference were invited to take the survey.) But given that the participants in the survey were predominantly statisticians, the responses to the question, ‘Should there be an ethical framework in place for collecting and using data’ were rather surprising (see the results in the graph below).

While 51% of respondents agreed and said that ‘ethics already plays a big part in my research’, 28% called for an industry standard on ethics to be implemented – implying they were unaware of any such a standard and how it might affect their work. The remainder either aren’t routinely influenced by ethical considerations, or simply answered ‘I don’t know’.

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