Oct 7 • 2 min read

When most people use social media, they’re either chatting with friends or scrolling through feeds. Data mining is not usually top of mind—but for Jimmy Quan, it is. 

Quan, a Fox School senior majoring in Statistical Science and Data Analytics (SSDA), spent his summer researching how social media users can weigh the tradeoffs between using platforms and privacy. He did so as part of the Fox Research Scholars program. 

“These platforms are free for users,” says Quan. “But companies like Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat and Tik-Tok use this data for personalized banners and targeted ads to generate revenue.” 

Social networking sites do offer users privacy settings, but these can be difficult to understand. Quan’s research asks the question: what tradeoffs are people willing to make to secure their data?

“We use choice-based conjoint analysis to give consumers different combinations of choices,” says Quan. “The analyses of consumer choices allow researchers to identify which attributes respondents value the most.” 

Quan’s study, which continues through the 2020-2021 academic year, seeks to understand if consumers would be willing to pay a small monthly fee for enhanced privacy controls, or make tradeoffs between privacy and other features of the platform. “We also are studying the differences in privacy valuation between different users based on age, gender and other factors,” says Quan. 

Quan has always been interested in math, but his interest in statistical research grew when he enrolled at the Fox School. “The field of statistical science is really wide,” Quan says. “And data is really popular. I’ve heard the saying that ‘data is worth more than oil.’” After finishing his undergraduate degree, Quan will continue on to get his MS in Business Analytics as part of the Fox School’s Accelerated 4+1 option. 

Jimmy Quan

Pallavi Chitturi, deputy chair and professor in the Department of Statistical Science oversees Quan’s work as his faculty mentor. Her work in choice-based conjoint analysis found practical applications in healthcare

“Jimmy made good progress over the summer and finished his interim report,” says Chitturi. “This fall, he moves on to data collection and analysis. Our hope is that he has the opportunity to present his results at a conference in the spring.” 

Chitturi nominated Quan for the Fox Research Scholars program, which honors undergraduate students engaged in scholarly research projects that contribute to advancing their field of study.

“The SSDA major gives students the opportunity to apply strong quantitative and data analytic techniques to complex business problems,” says Chitturi. “This project builds on that, providing him with the opportunity to engage in intensive, guided research.”

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