Hazarding a Guess: ethical, legal, and policy issues in analytics and big data applications

Solon Barocas (New York University), Betsy Masiello (Google), Jane Yakowitz (Brooklyn Law School)
Policy & Ethics
Location: Murray Hill Suite A Level: Non-technical

Analytics can push the frontier of knowledge well beyond the useful facts that already reside in big data, revealing latent correlations that empower organizations to make statistically motivated guesses—inferences—about the character, attributes, and future actions of their stakeholders and the groups to which they belong.

This is cause for both celebration and caution. Analytic insights can add to the stock of scientific and social scientific knowledge, significantly improve decision-making in both the public and private sector, and greatly enhance individual self-knowledge and understanding. They can even lead to entirely new classes of goods and services, providing value to institutions and individuals alike. But they also invite new applications of data that involve serious hazards.

This panel considers these hazards, asking how analytics implicate:

· Privacy — What are the privacy concerns involved in the kinds of inferences and applications that analytics enable? Are these concerns sufficiently well understood and accounted for?

· Autonomy — What are the ethical stakes of applications that draw on analytic findings to selectively (and perhaps inadvertently) influence or limit individuals’ choices or decision-making?

· Fairness — If organizations rely on certain discoveries to set criteria for unequal treatment or access, do analytics implicate questions of fairness and due process? More specifically, what if organizations draw on analytics to individualize risks or engage in adverse selection or cream skimming?

· Fragmentation — Do attempts to personalize and customize goods and services (including media content) to individuals on the basis of inferred preferences shield individuals from certain views and issues and thus undermine social belonging and the functioning of the public sphere?

The panel will also debate the appropriate response to these issues, reviewing the place of norms, policies, legal frameworks, regulation, and technology.

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.

Photo of Betsy Masiello

Betsy Masiello


Betsy Masiello is a Policy Manager on Google’s public policy team. As part of her work at Google she is one of the leads for Google’s privacy efforts and for analyzing Google’s and the Internet’s impact on the economy. Prior to joining Google she was a consultant at McKinsey & Company, where she served global telecommunications companies on new business strategies around emerging technology. Masiello holds a BA in Computer Science from Wellesley College, a MSc in Economics from Oxford where she was a Rhodes Scholar, and an SM from MIT’s Technology & Policy Program.

Jane Yakowitz

Brooklyn Law School

Jane Yakowitz joined the faculty of Brooklyn Law School as a Visiting Assistant Professor for a two-year term beginning in the fall of 2010. Her research interests include privacy law, the legal profession, and empirical legal studies. She previously served as the Director of Project SEAPHE (Scale and Effects of Admissions Preferences in Higher Education) at UCLA School of Law, which investigates the effects that admissions preferences based on factors such as race, socioeconomic status, and athletics have on their intended beneficiaries. Professor Yakowitz is also an accomplished artist and musician. She has recorded several albums and has performed at Carnegie Hall and other venues across the U.S., Canada, and Europe.


  • Aster Data
  • EMC Greenplum
  • GE
  • Lexis Nexis
  • MarkLogic
  • Tableau Software
  • Cloudera
  • DataStax
  • Informatica
  • DataSift
  • Splunk
  • Amazon Web Services
  • Datameer
  • Impetus
  • Karmasphere
  • MapR Technologies
  • Pervasive
  • Platform Computing
  • Revolution Analytics
  • Sybase
  • Xeround
  • Media-Science
  • Platfora

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For media-related inquiries, contact Maureen Jennings at maureen@oreilly.com

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