Mark Zuckerberg to Give Raj Chetty Your Facebook Data To Help Fight "Inequality"
February 19, 2018, 03:25 PM
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A half decade ago, Harvard-Stanford economist Raj Chetty got his hands on hundreds of millions of your income tax returns from the IRS and has been publishing results ever since that have been pretty interesting if you know how to think about modern realities.

Now Mark Zuckerberg is going to give your * Facebook data to Chetty:

* Excuse me, the Facebook IP legal department has just informed me that your Facebook data is not, legalistically speaking, your Facebook data. Remember that little box you clicked?

It is Mr. Zuckerberg’s data.

Facebook’s next project: American inequality

A Stanford economist is using the company’s vast store of personal data to study why so many in the U.S. are stuck in place economically.

By NANCY SCOLA 02/19/2018 07:13 AM EST

The new research is the latest sign of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s effort to grapple with the aftershocks of the 2016 election

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is quietly cracking open his company’s vast trove of user data for a study on economic inequality in the U.S. — the latest sign of his efforts to reckon with divisions in American society that the social network is accused of making worse.

The study, which hasn't previously been reported, is mining the social connections among Facebook’s American users to shed light on the growing income disparity in the U.S., where the top 1 percent of households is said to control 40 percent of the country's wealth. Facebook is an incomparably rich source of information for that kind of research: By one estimate, about three of five American adults use the social network.

Now the company is making the user data available to a team led by Stanford economist Raj Chetty, a favorite among tech elites for his focus on data-driven solutions to the nation’s social and economic problems. …

Facebook and Chetty declined to talk about the full scope of the research, but veterans of Washington’s domestic policy debates say the social network’s involvement could turbo-charge efforts to map out how geography and social connections play into economic inequality.

For example, consider a youth named, say, Mark Z. His friend Sean P. explained to him how geography and social connections play into economic inequality by asking him, more or less: Why are you wasting your life in a Nowheresville like Cambridge? Don’t you know that to be somebody in cyberspace, you have to physically be in Palo Alto?

Professor Chetty recently took Sean Parker’s advice and left Harvard for Stanford.

Chetty, in a brief interview following a January speech in Washington, said he and his collaborators — who include researchers from Stanford and New York University — have been working on the inequality study for at least six months.

“We’re using social networks, and measuring interactions there, to understand the role of social capital much better than we’ve been able to,” he said.

Researchers say they see Facebook’s enormous cache of data as a remarkable resource, offering an unprecedentedly detailed and sweeping look at American society. That store of information contains both details that a user might tell Facebook — their age, hometown, schooling, family relationships — and insights that the company has picked up along the way, such as the interest groups they’ve joined and geographic distribution of who they call a “friend.”

I love the quotes around “friend.”
According to a Stanford University source familiar with Chetty’s study, the Facebook account data used in the research has been stripped of any details that could be used to identify users. …

… Muñoz said it makes her nervous that Facebook can hand out that much data to researchers, but said she’s reassured it’s in Chetty’s hands. She said the professor “had a lot of fans” in the Obama White House, who admired his work using Internal Revenue Service tax records to show how Americans’ hometowns strongly predict their future wealth.

… During a 2016 Stanford conference co-hosted by the Obama White House and Zuckerberg’s philanthropic foundation, Chetty said he’d like to use Facebook data to figure out “whether you can network yourself out of poverty.”

If you can afford the rent in Palo Alto, perhaps.
… “Raj Chetty is doing unbelievably good work,” said Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam, whose 2000 book “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community” is oft-cited for its examination of the value of social relationships. “Mostly, it’s because he’s been able to get access to data that nobody else was able to get access to.“
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