Disclosure Risk from Factor Scores

Jörg Drechsler 1 , Gerd Ronning 2  and Philipp Bleninger 3
  • 1 Institute for Employment Research, Statistical Methods, Regensburger Str. 104, Nuremberg 90478, Germany
  • 2 University of Tuebingen, Mohlstraße 36, 72074 Tuebingen, Germany
  • 3 GfKSE, Nuremberg, Germany


Remote access can be a powerful tool for providing data access for external researchers. Since the microdata never leave the secure environment of the data-providing agency, alterations of the microdata can be kept to a minimum. Nevertheless, remote access is not free from risk. Many statistical analyses that do not seem to provide disclosive information at first sight can be used by sophisticated intruders to reveal sensitive information. For this reason the list of allowed queries is usually restricted in a remote setting. However, it is not always easy to identify problematic queries. We therefore strongly support the argument that has been made by other authors: that all queries should be monitored carefully and that any microlevel information should always be withheld. As an illustrative example, we use factor score analysis, for which the output of interest - the factor loading of the variables - seems to be unproblematic. However, as we show in the article, the individual factor scores that are usually returned as part of the output can be used to reveal sensitive information. Our empirical evaluations based on a German establishment survey emphasize that this risk is far from a purely theoretical problem.

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