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Re: Porn in the USA: Conservatives are biggest consumers
From: David Farber <dave () farber net>
Date: Mon, 2 Mar 2009 01:51:50 -0500

Begin forwarded message:

From: Peter Swire <peter () peterswire net>
Date: March 1, 2009 10:12:42 PM EST
To: "dave () farber net" <dave () farber net>
Subject: RE: [IP] Re: Porn in the USA: Conservatives are biggest consumers

Brock Meeks asks very good questions, which essentially boil down to this -- was the research done consistent with strong privacy protections?

As Brock and many readers of this list know, there have been painful episodes where data was released for research purposes in the belief that privacy was protected. Then, the data was linked to an individual. One example was when AOL released the records of online searches, and a number of the indviduals were identified. As a more general matter, LaTanya Sweeney and others have shown that "deidentified" data can often be "reidentified."

On the other hand, research is often a Good Thing. In the medical realm, research can go forward consistent with the HIPAA privacy rule in several ways -- consent by the patient, deidentification, approval by the Institutional Review Board, or subject to a data use agreement.

Other privacy laws, and many privacy policies, do not have any similar path to conducting research.

I think policymakers, and readers of this list, should want to accomplish the Good Thing of research and the Good Thing of privacy when possible. As a rough guide, the following should be considered:

1. Release data to researchers in truly deidentified form. That may have happened in the porn study, if the data was kept at the zip code level. (Then again, the list of credit card purchases may be like the AOL list of search terms -- some purchases or search terms are idiosyncratic enough that, combined with public records, the person can be identified.)

2. Consider creating Institutional Review Boards or the equivalent so that good practices are followed. It is true that IRBs can be a bureaucratic burden. But they also are an institutional mechanism to come up with protocols that meet good standards.

3. Consider releasing the data under data use agreements that bind the researchers. In this way, the researcher breaches a contract if names or other personal data are released outside the scope of the permitted research.

Steps such as these can help us get useful research while also protecting individuals against privacy invasions they can't control.


Prof. Peter P. Swire
C. William O'Neill Professor of Law
Moritz College of Law of the Ohio State University
Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress
(240) 994.4142, www.peterswire.net

-----Original Message-----
From: David Farber [mailto:dave () farber net]
Sent: Sunday, March 01, 2009 6:02 PM
To: ip
Subject: [IP] Re: Porn in the USA: Conservatives are biggest consumers

Begin forwarded message:

From: "Brock N. Meeks" <bmeeks () cox net>
Date: March 1, 2009 1:50:27 PM EST
To: <dave () farber net>, <jwarren () well com>
Subject: Re: [IP] Porn in the USA: Conservatives are biggest consumers

Leaving the original <ahem> thrust of this message aside, my foremost
question was "how did the researcher obtain this data?"

I've known Jim Warren for a couple of decades and I know how he values
privacy, which is why I'm curious as to why Jim didn't raise the subject

In the New Scientist article, we read the researcher has a client that
adult entertainment web sites and that this company provided the
"with roughly two years of credit card data from 2006 to 2008 that
a purchase date and each customer's postal code."

Say what?  I'm sure the last thing these subscribers thought their
card info would be used for was any kind of social behavior study.

Perhaps the "privacy" policies of such web sites informed subscribers
such a use of their information would be possible (I've not studied the
privacy policies of such web sites, I just look at the pictures...

If say, oh, for example, the Airline industry, turned over this kind of
"anonymized"  credit card data to homeland security for a study of
(whatever) I think Jim would be more than a bit concerned.

Now, I suppose such a hypothetical sets up a comparison as to who is the
more trustworthy:  the adult entertainment industry, the researcher, the
airline industry or Uncle Sam.  I leave that debate to more informed


On 3/1/09 10:21 AM, "David Farber" <dave () farber net> wrote:

Begin forwarded message:

From: Jim Warren <jwarren () well com>
Date: February 28, 2009 4:27:59 PM EST
To: Dave Farber <dave () farber net>
Subject: Porn in the USA: Conservatives are biggest consumers

From the New Scientist - http://bit.ly/ZkOq
27 February 2009 by Ewen Callaway

Americans may paint themselves in increasingly bright shades of red
and blue, but new research finds one thing that varies little across
the nation: the liking for online pornography.

A new nationwide study (pdf) of anonymised credit-card receipts from a
major online adult entertainment provider finds little variation in
consumption between states.

"When it comes to adult entertainment, it seems people are more the
same than different," says Benjamin Edelman at Harvard Business

However, there are some trends to be seen in the data. Those states
that do consume the most porn tend to be more conservative and
religious than states with lower levels of consumption, the study

...<big snip>...

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