Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared COVID-19 hits communities of color the hardest—and extensive evidence backs this up—communities of color are not receiving the aid they need. Health officials say the lack of disaggregated data by race and ethnicity has affected timely vaccine distribution and proper messaging for correcting misinformation to help those communities.

There has been a longstanding debate over protecting personal data versus supporting the common good. In particular, people of color with low incomes are more susceptible to privacy attacks because of their higher reliance on smartphones for internet access and how much personal information they give up for free cell phone app services. This information collection makes them more easily identifiable, especially if they are outliers in small geographies.

When easing confidentiality protections, federal agencies should consider the following to ensure communities most vulnerable to privacy attacks don’t become more at risk.

  1. Build on past and current technological innovations on expanding access to highly confidential data.
  2. Demonstrate and educate the federal agencies on these technological innovations.
  3. Engage with underrepresented communities with culturally relevant outreach.

If federal policymakers want to address racial disparities, they should collect and release detailed, disaggregated data. But they must also carefully consider the unintended harms they could cause to the people they are trying to help.

Read the full article about racial equity and data by Claire Bowen, Aaron R. Williams, and Ajjit Narayanan at Urban Institute.