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Press Release

Jonathan Potts

For immediate release:
June 16, 2005

Carnegie Mellon Professor Snags Award for Research That Studies Why People Fail To Protect Their Private Data

Alessandro Acquisti
PITTSBURGH—Alessandro Acquisti, an assistant professor of information systems and public policy in the H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management at Carnegie Mellon University, has received the 2005 Award for Outstanding Research in Privacy Enhancing Technologies (PET). This award is presented at the annual PET Workshop to researchers who made an outstanding contribution to the theory, design, implementation or deployment of privacy enhancing technology.

Acquisti's work, supported in part by the Carnegie Mellon Berkman Fund for Faculty Development, focuses on the social and economic impact of information technology and, in particular, the economics of privacy. He received the PET award for his paper, "Privacy in Electronic Commerce and the Economics of Immediate Gratification," which was published in the Proceedings of the ACM 2004 Electronic Commerce Conference. The award also carries a prize from Microsoft.

Acquisti drew on behavioral economics to explain why people who say they worry about their privacy may fail to take steps to safeguard personal data. One of the reasons, said Acquisti, is that protecting personal information has immediate costs but often intangible, long-term benefits. For example, shoppers who decline to use a grocery store customer card know they are losing out on discount prices, but cannot be sure what they will gain over time. Under these conditions, even individuals genuinely concerned about their privacy may face "selfcontrol" problems in deciding whether or not to protect their personal information. This does not imply that consumers will necessarily make bad choices, but highlights some of the obstacles (together with incomplete information and "bounded" rationality) that people face in making privacy-relevant decisions.

"It is interesting that a technology conference gave this prize to an economics paper. This is a very welcome sign that there is more and more convergence of economics and technology in privacy," Acquisti said.

"It's great for Carnegie Mellon and the Heinz School because we have a lot of people working on privacy and information security, and we are quite unique because there is lots of cross-disciplinary interaction."

Prior to joining Carnegie Mellon, Acquisti was a researcher at RIACS at the NASA Ames Research Center, and at SIMS at the University of California at Berkeley, where he earned his Ph.D. In 2000, Acquisti cofounded PGuardian Technologies, Inc., a provider of Internet security and privacy services, for which he developed and wrote two currently pending patents.


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