If Data Wants to Be Free, is Privacy a Prison?

Moderated by:
Alexander Howard (O'Reilly Media)
Jim Adler (Metanautix), Solon Barocas (New York University)
Policy & Privacy, Ballroom E
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So much of the privacy discussion is about data collection and access, fears of a future dystopia, and the complexities of law. There seems to be a real vacuum around how societal norms should be mapped to rapidly growing capabilities of big data. What’s difficult about some of these big data use-cases is that even the intended and approved uses of data can lead to decisions or actions that negatively affect specific individuals or groups. These can range from effects on safety (by making a person more easily identifiable or locatable), to fairness (because the purpose of the application is some form of discrimination), to autonomy (by limiting individual choice or through subtle manipulation).

Regrettably, data professionals (e.g., scientists, engineers, designers, analysts) are left in a “don’t ask don’t tell” privacy conundrum where no framework exists to assess the societal impact of their work. Such a framework would need to go beyond default “procedural protections” (e.g., the Fair Information Practice Principles) to “substantive protections” that evaluate possible product impact at design-time and track actual impact as the product moves into the market.

This conversation will address, from academic and industrial perspectives, specific use-cases within people search, background checks, online advertising, and voter targeting. Through these use-cases, we’ll explore the feasibility of a “responsible innovation” framework that might guide data professionals.

Photo of Alexander Howard

Alexander Howard

O'Reilly Media

Alexander B. Howard is the Government 2.0 Correspondent for O’Reilly Media, where he reports on technology, open government and online civics. Before joining O’Reilly, Howard was the associate editor of SearchCompliance.com at TechTarget. His work there focused on how regulations affect IT operations, including issues of data protection, privacy, security and enterprise IT strategy. Before moving the focus of his coverage to cybersecurity, online privacy and compliance, Howard was the associate editor of WhatIs.com, an online IT encyclopedia. In that role, he researched and wrote about nearly every aspect of enterprise IT, including the impact of social software on business and the media. In his spare time, he practiced writing about himself in the third person, with mixed results. Howard’s work experience also includes working in operations for an e-business consultancy, as a knowledge broker for a management consulting firm, as a middle school teacher, as a master home builder and, very briefly, as a garden manager at an outstanding Italian restaurant. Howard graduated from Colby College with a bachelor’s degree in biology and sociology.

Photo of Jim Adler

Jim Adler


Jim is a business executive, entrepreneur, and thought leader on big data, privacy, security, and voting systems. Currently, Jim is VP of Products & Chief Privacy Officer at Metanautix. He also currently serves on the The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee (DPIAC) providing advice at the request of the Secretary of Homeland Security and the DHS Chief Privacy Officer.

Most recently, Jim was Vice President, Data Systems at inome and the first Chief Privacy Officer at Intelius. Jim led the big data team that powers the company’s products as well as serving as its chief consumer advocate. Prior to inome and Intelius, Jim served as president and chief technology officer at Identity.net, an Internet company giving consumers control of their online identity and reputation. He was the founder and CEO of VoteHere, a pioneer in the development of private and secure electronic voting. He is a co-inventor of patents related to cryptographic voting and digital signatures. Jim has also served on the advisory boards of the Future of Privacy Forum and Helios Voting. Jim received his bachelor’s degree with high honors in electrical engineering from the University of Florida and his master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering from the University of California, San Diego.

Jim blogs about privacy, data, and leadership at jimadler.me. Follow him on Twitter @jim_adler.

Photo of Solon Barocas

Solon Barocas

New York University

Solon Barocas is a doctoral student in the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication and Student Fellow at the Information Law Institute at New York University. His research examines the ethics and implications of data mining, particularly for purposes of strategic communication. Solon has worked with the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, the Center for Global Communication Studies, the Stanhope Centre for Communication Policy and Research, and the Russell Sage Foundation. He obtained his MSc in International Relations from the London School of Economics and graduated from Brown University with a BA in Art-Semiotics and International Relations.


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