Phantom Perspective


A new report from Fordham CLIP sheds light on the market for student list data from higher education institutions


“Student lists are commercially available for purchase on the basis of ethnicity, affluence, religion, lifestyle, awkwardness, and even a perceived or predicted need for family planning services.

This information is being collected, marketed, and sold about individuals because they are students.”

Drawing from publicly-available sources, public records requests from educational institutions, and marketing materials sent to high school students gathered over several years, the study paints an unsettling portrait of the murky market for student list data, and makes recommendations for regulatory response: 

  1. The commercial marketplace for student information should not be a subterranean market. Parents, students, and the general public should be able to reasonably know (i) the identities of student data brokers, (ii) what lists and selects they are selling, and (iii) where the data for student lists and selects derives. A model like the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) should apply to compilation, sale, and use of student data once outside of schools and FERPA protections. If data brokers are selling information on students based on stereotypes, this should be transparent and subject to parental and public scrutiny.
  2. Brokers of student data should be required to follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy of student data. Parents and emancipated students should be able to gain access to their student data and correct inaccuracies. Student data brokers should be obligated to notify purchasers and other downstream users when previously-transferred data is proven inaccurate and these data recipients should be required to correct the inaccuracy.
  3. Parents and emancipated students should be able to opt out of uses of student data for commercial purposes unrelated to education or military recruitment.
  4. When surveys are administered to students through schools, data practices should be transparent, students and families should be informed as to any commercial purposes of surveys before they are administered, and there should be compliance with other obligations under the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA).”

Link popup: yes to the study. 

  • A 2016 report by Dalia Topelson Ritvo from the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society’s Cyberlaw Clinic reviews existing legislation governing student data collected through networked ed-tech. Link popup: yes. Another Berkman Klein paper, from 2015, looks at emerging data privacy issues for K-12 learning environments. Link popup: yes
  • H.764, a recently-passed bill in Vermont that makes an appearance in the Fordham study, sets out the first regulations for data brokers in the country. These include mandatory registration with the government, strict disclosure rules for data breaches, and a set of new legal liabilities if broker data leads to a crime (like race-based loan discrimination, for example). Link popup: yes to bill text. And an even broader law has been proposed in California. Link popup: yes to coverage of both bills. 


A new report on automation and job loss tackles the lump-of-labor fallacy

The ROOSEVELT INSTITUTE has published a new report by MARK PAUL that discusses automation’s potential effects in the context of long-term wage and productivity stagnation and the historical relationship between technology and job displacement:

“A narrative of imminent mass unemployment and economic insecurity due to rising automation, also known as ‘the robot revolution,’ is gripping policymakers, workers, and the media. Conflicting reports hype up the supposed inevitability of a large-scale displacement of workers by the robots.
Workers in the U.S. seem to be skeptical of potential technological change, perhaps because the link between economic growth and broad-based wage gains is broken in this country. If the rules of the economy are not changed to rebalance worker power, future technological developments will likely further exacerbate inequality and displace workers in our already deeply divided country. However, little work has challenged the impending doom narrative and sought to find another path forward. After all, automation has historically been a job creator, a critical way the U.S. remains competitive in an increasingly global economy, and a primary driver of rising living standards.
But while technological change in aggregate increases living standards and has the potential to improve job quality, we must ask ‘for whom?’ The job of policymakers is to handle these challenges in a socially desirable way, ensuring that the overall gains from technology are shared, and the potential losers, such as the people displaced by technological advances, are compensated, transitioned to new jobs, and included in the ensuing growth.”

Paul identifies a handful of policies that he argues can remedy the two primary concerns of technological change: unemployment and inequality. These include full employment, revising IP law, active government direction of R&D, work sharing policies, and a right to education and training.

Link popup: yes to the full report.

  • Neil Irwin covered the report for the Times: “While these ideas are coming from a decidedly left-of-center place, it’s striking how some of them overlap with the goals of centrist business interests and even some conservative thinkers.” Link popup: yes
  • Paul links to a Deloitte report from 2015 that examines the effects of technological change on the labor market in England and Wales over 144 years, finding that technology has created more jobs than it has destroyed. Link popup: yes
  • An interesting article that we linked to several newsletters ago examines the projected geographic differences in automation’s displacement effects: “Small cities will undertake greater adjustments, such as worker displacement and job content substitutions. We demonstrate that large cities exhibit increased occupational and skill specialization due to increased abundance of managerial and technical professions. These occupations are not easily automatable, and, thus, reduce the potential impact of automation in large cities.” Link popup: yes
  • In a 2011 CEPR paper, Dean Baker advocates for work sharing as a solution to unemployment and reviews existing instances of the practice. Link popup: yes. (A more comprehensive paper from 1999 by Jennifer Hunt examines the German case. Link popup: yes.) 


  • Two years after an unsuccessful referendum for a nationwide basic income, a small village in Switzerland is considering implementing a crowdfunded UBI experiment for its residents. Link popup: yes.
  • Decompressing History published a pair of timely posts on the historical economic entanglements of two sets of World Cup opponents: Spain v. Portugal and France v. Australia. (More of these to come, we hope.) Link popup: yes, link popup: yes
  • A post by Gwern Branwen on tech and competition recapitulates and riffs on a 2002 insight from former MS product manager Joel Spolsky: Commoditize Your Complement. Link popup: yes
  • The UK has released its latest Data Ethics Framework, a document that explains how to mobilize the emerging field of data ethics as guidance for data use in government and the public sector. Link popup: yes
  • “Does special interest influence decline when policy is chosen using direct democracy, without involvement of representatives?” A Stigler Center working paper by John Matsusaka on the effect of referenda and initiatives on regulatory capture. Link popup: yes. (And link popup: yes to an explanatory post on the findings by at ProMarket.) 
  • Slides from a recent Gabriel Zucman (author of The Hidden Wealth of Nations popup: yes) presentation: “The Missing Profits of Nations.” Link popup: yes
  • “Economic and technological progress is neither linear nor universal. For much of human history, economic growth was slow, and it gathered pace only in the last five hundred years. As economic and technological change is nonlinear, scholars have explored whether certain social structures (cities and markets) are more conducive to rapid progress, as they enable greater social interaction and learning between strangers. The transition of the northwest European economy from guild-based to market-based was one such case of transformation that put the region on a path of rapid progress and modernity. What were the factors that triggered this transition?” Link popup: yes.
  • Following an editorial board op-ed popup: yes last weekend on the subject, the Times published a second piece advocating for ranked-choice voting, with Maine’s implementation of the system for its primaries earlier this week providing context. By Amartya Sen and Erik Maskin. Link popup: yes. (Link popup: yes, also, to a Twitter thread from Sally Hudson we shared back in March, which discusses the system in the context of Santa Fe’s mayoral elections from that month.) 
  • A paper by Diego Daruich at the Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Working Group popup: yes examines the macro effects of early childhood development policies. Link popup: yes
  • José Azar and Xavier Vives “develop a macroeconomic framework in which firms are large and have market power with respect to both products and factors…. When there are multiple sectors, due to an intersectoral pecuniary externality, an increase in common ownership can stimulate the economy when labor market oligopsony power is low relative to product market oligopoly power. We find that neither the monopolistically competitive limit of Dixit and Stiglitz nor the oligopolistic one of Neary (when firms become small relative to the economy) are attained unless there is incomplete portfolio diversification.” Link popup: yes
  • An evaluation of Community Driven Development interventions, by the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation. Link popup: yes
  • A nice post at popup: yes‘s blog by Claire Evans on poet Judy Malloy and hypertext developer Cathy Marshall, who collaborated at Xerox PARC in the early-1990s. “Judy was a poet who wrote FORTRAN as elegantly as verse; Cathy an engineer with an English degree. Judy used databases to string together fragments of literature. At PARC, Cathy built systems to organize thought.” Link popup: yes
  • “In 1973 Albert Otto Hirschman proposed an explanation of changing tolerance for inequality associated with different ‘stages’ of the development process. In this post I’ll revisit Hirschman’s theory and link it to emerging studies of how inequality is perceived in China.” Link popup: yes

Each week we highlight research from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Send us recommendations:

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