Differentially Private Survey Research


Georgina Evans, Gary King, Adam D. Smith, and Abhradeep Thakurta. Working Paper. “Differentially Private Survey Research”. Copy at https://j.mp/3jAYXo3
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Differentially Private Survey Research


Survey researchers have long sought to protect the privacy of their respondents via de-identification (removing names and other directly identifying information) before sharing data. Although these procedures can help, recent research demonstrates that they fail to protect respondents from intentional re-identification attacks, a problem that threatens to undermine vast survey enterprises in academia, government, and industry. This is especially a problem in political science because political beliefs are not merely the subject of our scholarship; they are key information respondents seek to keep private. We confirm the problem in practice by easily re-identifying a sensitive survey about a recent abortion referendum. We build on the concept of "differential privacy" to offer new survey research data sharing procedures with mathematical guarantees for protecting respondent privacy and statistical validity guarantees for social scientists analyzing differentially private data.  The cost of these new procedures is larger standard errors, which can be overcome with somewhat larger sample sizes.
Last updated on 10/14/2020