May 23, 2015

Consumer-privacy face-off between alum Ashkan Soltani and former dean Hal Varian

From The New York Times

The Government’s Consumer Data Watchdog

By Natasha Singer

When does the free flow of personal data benefit consumers, and when might it damage their pocketbooks?

That question, at the heart of the debate over information economics and fairness, took center stage one day last month when Hal R. Varian, chief economist of Google, and Ashkan Soltani, chief technologist of the Federal Trade Commission, participated in a conference on big data and privacy at the Temple University Fox School of Business in Philadelphia.

Before an audience of professors and business students, Mr. Varian, a professor emeritus at the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley, described the potential upsides of price discrimination — the practice of charging people different amounts for the same product, based on their age, location, creditworthiness or other details specific to them....

The argument was not unfamiliar to Mr. Soltani, a former student of Mr. Varian’s at Berkeley and a data privacy researcher whose work once helped the F.T.C. bring a landmark case against Google. But when it came time for his presentation, Mr. Soltani took the opposite stance, arguing that online data-mining is so opaque to consumers that it can lead to unfair financial treatment....


Last updated:

October 4, 2016