A Feasibility Study of Differentially Private Summary Statistics and Regression Analyses with Evaluations on Administrative and Survey Data
Published in: Journal of the American Statistical Association (2023). doi: 10.1080/01621459.2023.2270795
Posted on rand.org Oct 27, 2023
Federal administrative data, such as tax data, are invaluable for research, but because of privacy concerns, access to these data is typically limited to select agencies and a few individuals. An alternative to sharing microlevel data is to allow individuals to query statistics without directly accessing the confidential data. This paper studies the feasibility of using differentially private (DP) methods to make certain queries while preserving privacy. We also include new methodological adaptations to existing DP regression methods for using new data types and returning standard error estimates. We define feasibility as the impact of DP methods on analyses for making public policy decisions and the queries accuracy according to several utility metrics. We evaluate the methods using Internal Revenue Service data and public-use Current Population Survey data and identify how specific data features might challenge some of these methods. Our findings show that DP methods are feasible for simple, univariate statistics but struggle to produce accurate regression estimates and confidence intervals. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first comprehensive statistical study of DP regression methodology on real, complex datasets, and the findings have significant implications for the direction of a growing research field and public policy.