User Study on Information Privacy: Debriefing

Thank you for your participation in our study.
We know it was a lot of data, decisions, and clicks.

But then again, in the digital age, that seems to be the trend.

So, better understanding of the following is important: The Population Informatics Lab is primarily interested in investigating these questions in the context of using person level data for social good.

Person level data has been used for marketing, campaigning, and intelligence with little transparency or control for many years. Yet, current privacy protection strategies often prevent researchers from using similar information for social good. Population informatics is the burgeoning field at the intersection of social, behavioural, economic, and health (SBEH) sciences, computer science, and statistics that applies quantitative methods and computational tools to answer questions about human populations (Kum et al. 2014).  Population informatics uses social genome data (i.e., big data about people) responsibly to extract crucial insights into society‚Äôs most challenging problems. Such insights help us understand the root causes of social and public health problems, predict the downstream effects of different policies, identify upstream opportunities for interventions, and allocate our collective resources for the greatest impact.

Not surprisingly, record linkage - link records from different databases - is one of the core requirements for doing good research in population informatics. Furthermore, this means we also have to grapple with information privacy of the subjects of the data, which is a complex topic and difficult homework for all of us living in the digital era.

You can no longer "avoid" joining the digital society (e.g., joining LinkedIn), yet it is unclear what the impact of your joining the digital community will be (e.g., all of a sudden it seems that everyone/anyone can find you and you cannot hide).

Some things you might want to know about information privacy: The user study you participated on specifically was designed to better understand what data we can hide, but still make good record linkage decisions, which ultimately will lead to high quality valid data for good research. We hope that some of you who were given less data had a chance to experience personally what could be the cost, such as quality of results, increase in time and effort, of hiding needed information for privacy protection.

We have yet to see what the results are, but in essence, different people were given different "interfaces/information" to make the record linkage decisions. The results of this study will help our society better find the acceptable balance between privacy protection and good use of person level data for social good.

If you are curious and would like to experience how other interfaces work or want to share your experience with others, please check our project website in September. We plan to make this user study publicly available as an exercise to experience and appreciate the complexities of information privacy.

Thank you again for your participation.