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Discussion Paper

The Economics of Social Data

A data intermediary acquires signals from individual consumers regarding their preferences. The intermediary resells the information in a product market wherein firms and consumers tailor their choices to the demand data. The social dimension of the individual data -whereby a consumer’s data are predictive of others’ behavior- generates a data externality that can reduce the intermediary’s cost of acquiring the information. The intermediary optimally preserves the privacy of consumers’ identities if and only if doing so increases social surplus.