A Caltech Library Service

Access to Population-Level Signaling as a Source of Inequality

Immorlica, Nicole and Ligett, Katrina and Ziani, Juba (2019) Access to Population-Level Signaling as a Source of Inequality. In: Proceedings of the Conference on Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency. Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) , New York, NY, pp. 249-258. ISBN 978-1-4503-6125-5.

[img] PDF - Submitted Version
See Usage Policy.


Use this Persistent URL to link to this item:


We identify and explore differential access to population-level signaling (also known as information design) as a source of unequal access to opportunity. A population-level signaler has potentially noisy observations of a binary type for each member of a population and, based on this, produces a signal about each member. A decision-maker infers types from signals and accepts those individuals whose type is high in expectation. We assume the signaler of the disadvantaged population reveals her observations to the decision-maker, whereas the signaler of the advantaged population forms signals strategically. We study the expected utility of the populations as measured by the fraction of accepted members, as well as the false positive rates (FPR) and false negative rates (FNR). We first show the intuitive results that for a fixed environment, the advantaged population has higher expected utility, higher FPR, and lower FNR, than the disadvantaged one (despite having identical population quality), and that more accurate observations improve the expected utility of the advantaged population while harming that of the disadvantaged one. We next explore the introduction of a publicly-observable signal, such as a test score, as a potential intervention. Our main finding is that this natural intervention, intended to reduce the inequality between the populations' utilities, may actually exacerbate it in settings where observations and test scores are noisy.

Item Type:Book Section
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription Paper
Ligett, Katrina0000-0003-2780-6656
Ziani, Juba0000-0002-3324-4349
Additional Information:© 2019 ACM. Ligett’s research was funded in part by the HUJI Cyber Security Research Center in conjunction with the Israel National Cyber Directorate (INCD) in the Prime Minister’s Office, the Israeli Science Foundation, and by a DARPA Brandeis subcontract. Ziani’s research was supported in part by NSF grants CNS-1331343 and CNS-1518941, the Linde Graduate Fellowship at Caltech, and the inaugural PIMCO Graduate Fellowship at Caltech.
Funding AgencyGrant Number
HUJI Cyber Security Research CenterUNSPECIFIED
Israel National Cyber Directorate (INCD)UNSPECIFIED
Israel Science FoundationUNSPECIFIED
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)UNSPECIFIED
Linde Institute of Economic and Management ScienceUNSPECIFIED
Caltech PIMCO Graduate FellowshipUNSPECIFIED
Subject Keywords:Fairness; strategic signaling; information design; university admissions
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20190111-072027347
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:Nicole Immorlica, Katrina Ligett, and Juba Ziani. 2019. Access to Population-Level Signaling as a Source of Inequality. In FAT* ’19: Conference on Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency, January 29–31, 2019, Atlanta, GA, USA. ACM, NewYork,NY, USA, 10 pages.
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:92207
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:11 Jan 2019 17:41
Last Modified:09 Jul 2020 21:47

Repository Staff Only: item control page