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Communications and Signal Processing Seminar

Information Privacy Romances Trading Markets: Experiments and Mechanisms for the Surveillance Age

Ranjan PalResearch ScientistUniversity of Michigan, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
1005 EECS BuildingMap


ln-app advertising – a multi-billion dollar industry, is an essential part of the current digital ecosystem driven by free mobile applications, where the ecosystem entities usually comprise consumer apps, their clients (consumers), ad-networks, and advertisers. Sensitive consumer information is often being sold downstream in this ecosystem without the knowledge of consumers, and in many cases to their annoyance. While this practice, in cases, may result in long-term benefits for the consumers, it can result in serious information privacy breaches of very significant impact (e.g., breach of genetic data) in the short term. The question we raise through this talk is: Is it economically feasible to trade consumer personal information with their formal consent (permission) and in return provide them incentives (monetary or otherwise)?. In the first part of the talk, I will introduce the problem for the general audience along with a discussion on the conflicting opinions regarding data trading expressed by economists, technologists, and lawyers. In the second and final part of the talk, I will briefly talk about a) learnings from large scale field experiments we conducted from 2015 to 2019 regarding consumer preferences on privacy trading, using a randomized controlled trial (RCT) based approach, and consequently (b) the design of efficient/bounded inefficient economic mechanisms for oligopoly data trading markets using a novel functional bidding approach on a simplified seller-broker-buyer market. The talk is based on current ongoing research with multiple universities round the globe, and Nokia Bell Labs Cambridge.


Ranjan Pal is a junior research faculty member of ECE at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor. His primary research interest lies in engineering robust inter-disciplinary cyber-security solutions using decision and applied mathematical sciences, with a current focus on the economics, econometrics, data science, and game-theoretic dimensions of information security and privacy. Ranjan received his PhD in Computer Science from USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering, and conducted postdoctoral research at the University of Cambridge and USC. During his graduate and postdoctoral studies, Ranjan has held short-term visiting research positions at Cambridge University, MIT, NUS, Princeton, Tsinghua University, University of Helsinki, Deutsch Telekom Labs, Ciena Corporation, and Aalborg University. He has also been involved in teaching summer graduate courses in game theory at the premier Indian Institutes of Technology and Indian Institutes of Management, and consulted for the cyber-risk industry. Ranjan is a member of Cambridge Trust and Technology Initiative, IEEE, ACM, American Mathematical Society, INFORMS, SIAM, and Game Theory Society.

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Judi Jones(734) 763-8557