Census Bureau faces privacy concerns and online scams

Erik Paul isn’t afraid to answer government questions about where his software development business is located or how many employees it has. But when querying from US Census Bureau Referring to the company’s financial position, executives hesitated.

Paul, of Orlando, Florida, who recently responded online to Economic Census in 2022.

It’s an issue facing the Census Bureau and other federal agencies as privacy concerns grow and online scams increase, reducing survey response rates. In the century. The pandemic has exacerbated the problem by disrupting in-person follow-up visits.

Low response rates lead to bias as wealthier and more educated households are more likely to respond to surveys, which affects the accuracy of the data that the respondents report. Demographers, planners, businesses and government leaders rely on allocating resources.

Survey skepticism has grown so much that the Federal Trade Commission this month put out a consumer alarm reassure the public that American Community Surveyone of the Census Bureau’s most important tools, is legal.

The ACS is the office’s largest survey and asks about more than 40 topics ranging from income, internet access, rent, disability and home languages. Along with the census, it helps determine how $1.5 trillion in federal spending each year is distributed, where schools are built and where new housing developments are located, among other issues.

Although considered the backbone of data on the US, the survey response rate down to 85.3% in 2021 from 97.6% in 2011, while other federal questionnaires have even worse.

The warning is understandable, the FTC warning said, but the information being sought serves an important public purpose.

“ACS is a legitimate survey to collect information used to make decisions about how federal funding is spent in your community,” the FTC said in a warning posted on its website. me.

Skepticism can be difficult to dispel. It persists even among those accused of protecting the public against identity theft and helping them secure online.

In the comments section of the Federal Trade Commission website, Cherie Aschenbrenner responded to the consumer warning by writing: “There is NO WAY on anyone’s mind if they answer invasive questions. this offense. Their 20 pages! NO WAY!!!!”

Aschenbrenner is an elderly service officer with the police department in Elgin, Illinois. Part of her responsibilities include warning older people about potential scams.

In an email, she said that her comment was a personal opinion and that she did not wish to elaborate further.

“Probably not in my best interest, professionally,” she said.

The drop in response rates can be attributed to consumer fatigue from surveys for things like answering questions when they buy a product, as well as privacy concerns and the amount of time it takes to pay. answer questions. Surveys also reach fewer people due to spam filters, caller IDs and doorbell cameras, says Douglas Williams, a senior research survey methodologist at the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“The most unique thing over the past decade, aside from COVID, is the magnitude of the decline,” Williams said. “It’s hard to pinpoint any reason or cause, but technology is a possible candidate.”

Federal statistical agencies have attempted to send enhanced notifications and follow up, making follow-up calls, and visiting households that have not responded. They also allow respondents to reply via different modes, such as internet, mail, or phone. Some even provide money for answers on how much people earn.

Officials are also looking into alternative data sources, such as administrative records collected by government agencies like the Social Security Administration and the Internal Revenue Service. They are also looking to capture and aggregate real-time financial transactions, such as buying soda at a grocery store. Details are still being worked out on that matter, but they will include privacy safeguards that prevent any particular purchase from being tied to an individual consumer.

Census Bureau, where more than 130 surveys and related programs each year, has been taking steps towards greater use of administrative records. This month, the office suggested using existing records of real estate acreage instead of asking about it in the American Community Survey. It is also examining how to leverage other sources of housing information.

The office surveys cover all sorts of topics, including retail costs, housing costs, school system finances, and how people spend their time.

Census Bureau Director Robert Santos said relying more heavily on administrative records could free up resources to be able to devote more effort to reaching difficult-to-count populations, such as as immigrants, rural residents, and people of color.

Such populations can be difficult to count because of language barriers, lack of internet access, distrust of government, or because individuals are simply difficult to locate. But people face a loss of resources if they are not tallied or interviewed.

The 2020 Census is the first time in the nation’s once-decade census that administrative records are used to fill in the gap on under-informed households. A post-told review that surveyed a portion of the population and compared those results with census data found that information from the Social Security Administration and the IRS was more accurate than from neighborhood interviews. or homeowner, the traditional method is used when a household does not respond.

“Why can’t we more quickly rely on administrative records that have actually been shown to count a large percentage of our population?” Santos asked. “That saves money.”


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