Cornell University

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Seminar @ Cornell Tech: John M. Abowd

Thursday, October 14, 2021 at 10:30am to 11:30am

Cornell Tech, Bloomberg Center, Room 301

"Differential Privacy and the 2020 Census in the United States"

The talk focuses on the implementation of the differential privacy framework to protect confidentiality in the data products in the 2020 Census of Population and Housing. I present a high-level overview of the design used for key data products, known as the TopDown Algorithm. I focus on the high-level policy and technical challenges that the U.S. Census Bureau faced during the implementation including the original science embodied in that algorithm, implementation challenges arising from the production constraints, formalizing policies about privacy-loss budgets, communicating the effects of the algorithms on the final data products, and balancing competing data users’ interests against the inherent privacy loss associated with detailed data publications.


Speaker Bio

John Abowd is the U.S. Census Bureau’s associate director for research and methodology, and chief scientist. He was named to the position in June 2016. The Research and Methodology Directorate leads critical work to modernize our operations and products. He is leading the agency’s efforts to create a differentially private disclosure avoidance system for the 2020 Census and future data products. His long association with the Census Bureau began in 1998 when he joined the team that helped found the longitudinal employer-household dynamics program. In 2008, he led the team that created the world’s first application of a differentially private data protection system for the program’s OnTheMap job location tool. Abowd is also the Edmund Ezra Day Professor emeritus of economics, statistics, and data science at Cornell University. He is a fellow and past president of the Society of Labor Economists. He is also a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Statistical Association, and Econometric Society, as well as an elected member of the International Statistical Institute. He earned his M.A. and Ph.D. in economics from the University of Chicago and A.B. in economics from the University of Notre Dame.

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Cornell Tech - NYC




John M. Abowd

Speaker Affiliation

Cornell University

Disability Access Information

Available Upon Request