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A balance between privacy and data sharing for public goods

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The data sharing standards established by the Bermuda Principles have significantly accelerated the development of mRNA coronavirus vaccines. The Chinese research institute announced the discovery of a new coronavirus on January 9, 2020. I sequenced it next weekend. Immediately after that, the genome sequence was released. By the end of January, laboratories around the world were developing genome sequence-based vaccines, even though there were no actual samples yet. Without open data efforts, the coronavirus vaccine may still be months away.

Indeed, the use of consumer genetic data raises serious privacy concerns. It is common to remove identifiers such as names from genetic data before making them publicly available, but researchers can combine anonymous gene sequences with other public information such as genealogy databases and ages and places of residence to personalize anyway. May be identifiable. These issues can be resolved with further protection, but you should always be vigilant.

Privacy is never guaranteed. Risk should always be minimized and balanced with the innovation benefits that can result from increased data availability.

Similar logic applies to economic data. Consider the US policy response to the coronavirus. The Coronavirus Assistance, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act’s Paycheck Protection Program provisions have provided SMEs with hundreds of billions of dollars of permissible loans. Despite the large amount of bailouts available, loan demand far exceeded supply. Ideally, the loan should have been based on expected needs, but the Treasury did not have information about the financial position of the company.

Due to the lack of good data, loans were based on convenience rather than expected needs, using local banks as intermediaries and disproportionately lending to tightly connected companies. Economists estimate that the program spent $ 150,000 to $ 377,000 on each saved job. This is the high price of a program guaranteed for just a few months.

Better programs will use real-time data from the business itself to direct assistance to the business sectors and regions that need the most help. This data already exists, but only behind the company wall. It should be anonymized and publicly assembled as carefully as possible so that local policy makers and entrepreneurs can direct relief to those who need it most.

One of the promising models is the Opportunity Insights Economic Tracker. This is a public repository of anonymized data provided by a private sector. The tracker was launched in May by researchers at Harvard and Brown University. (I wasn’t involved in the tracker work, but I’m working with Opportunity Insights.) Real-time analysis of the economic benefits enabled by better data sharing is targeting policies to those who need it most. Can be improved.

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