Big Data is a Hotbed of Thoughtcrime. So What?

Business & Industry, Gramercy East (NY Hilton)
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Since the first human scrawled an image on a cave wall, the brain has been processing petabytes of data. Today, we’re passing through an historical threshold where big data is leaching out of our braincases into the disembodied cloud. For the first time in human existence, we can “think” outside of our brains. What does this mean for privacy, morality, ethics, and the law?

This is not just theoretical. Retailers know you’re pregnant before your family; your sexual orientation can be automatically derived from your friends list; and police can predict where and when crime is more likely to occur. So, if we can make these inferences, should we?

Thoughts may be inappropriate but the law doesn’t punish thought. When thought is translated into speech, it is protected to a great extent. Only when thought is translated to action might the law intervene. This talk will examine recent big data inferences in similar contexts of thought, speech, and action.

Photo of Jim Adler

Jim Adler


Jim Adler is the Chief Privacy Officer and General Manager of Data Systems at Intelius. As part of the executive leadership team, Jim is the chief consumer advocate for the company as well as responsible for the data systems that power Intelius’ products. Jim is a national leader on privacy, cryptography, and security issues having testified before the Federal Trade Commission, U.S. Congress, National Institute of Standards and Technology and leading academic institutions. Jim also serves on the advisory boards of the Future of Privacy Forum and Helios Voting. Jim blogs and tweets about privacy and data at and @jim_adler.

Prior to Intelius, Jim served as president and chief technology officer at, an Internet company giving consumers control of their online identity and reputation. From 1998 to 2005, he was the founder and CEO of VoteHere, a pioneer in the development of private and secure electronic voting, both online and offline. He is a co-inventor of patents related to cryptographic voting and digital signatures. He 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.


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