CyLab Usable Privacy and Security Lab / Privacy Seminar

  • Professor of Information Technology and Public Policy
  • Heinz College
  • Carnegie Mellon University

Privacy, Economics, and Behavior: An Overview

n the current policy debate over privacy, the protection of personal information is often set against the benefits society is expected to gain from large scale analytics applied to individuals' data. An implicit assumption underlies the purported dichotomy between privacy and "big data":  it is assumed that research in economics overwhelmingly concludes that the increasing collection and analysis of personal data will be economically beneficial for data holders and data subjects alike. I will use results from theoretical and empirical economics to investigate that notion. In doing so, I will highlight how current research findings paint a more nuanced picture of the economic impact of data sharing and data protection on both individual and societal welfare. Then, I will use results from behavioral economics and decision research to investigate the role of individuals' privacy decision making in affecting their economic welfare.

Alessandro Acquisti is a Professor of Information Technology and Public Policy at the Heinz College, Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), the director of the Peex (Privacy Economics Experiments) lab at CMU, and the co-director of Carnegie Mellon’s CBDR (Center for Behavioral and Decision Research). Alessandro investigates the economics of privacy. His studies have spearheaded the investigation of privacy and disclosure behavior in online social networks, and the application of behavioral economics to the study of privacy and information security decision making.

Alessandro has been the recipient of the PET Award for Outstanding Research in Privacy Enhancing Technologies, the IBM Best Academic Privacy Faculty Award, the Heinz College School of Information's Teaching Excellence Award, and numerous Best Paper awards. His studies have been published in journals, books, and proceedings across a variety of fields, including Science, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, Management Science, Journal of Economic Literature, Marketing Science, Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and Journal of Experimental Psychology. Alessandro has testified before the U.S. Senate and House committees on issues related to privacy policy and consumer behavior, and has been frequently invited to consult on privacy policy issues by various government bodies, including the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Council of Economic Advisers, the Federal Trade Commission, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and the European Commission.

Alessandro’s findings have been featured in national and international media outlets, including the Economist, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Financial Times,, NPR, CNN, and 60 Minutes; his TED talks on privacy and human behavior have been viewed over 1.2 million times online. His 2009 study on the predictability of Social Security numbers was featured in the “Year in Ideas” issue of the NYT Magazine (the SSNs assignment scheme was changed by the US Social Security Administration in 2011). Alessandro holds a PhD from UC Berkeley, and Master degrees from UC Berkeley, the London School of Economics, and Trinity College Dublin. He has held visiting positions at the Universities of Rome, Paris, and Freiburg (visiting professor); Harvard University (visiting scholar); University of Chicago (visiting fellow); Microsoft Research (visiting researcher); and Google (visiting scientist). He has been a member of the National Academies' Committee on public response to alerts and warnings using social media, he is a member of the Board of Regents of the National Library of Medicine (NLM), and he is a Carnegie Fellow (inaugural class).

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