One thing we know about “big data” in developing countries is that the only data stream that covers the poor is that which is generated by the mobile operators. Here is an account of an interesting application of mobile big data:
There’s a vast market of consumers in countries like Brazil, China, India, and the Phillipines who want access to financial services like credit cards, loans, or insurance,” says Jonathan Hakim, Cignifi’s chief executive. “But while they may have jobs, and some have bank accounts, there really is no credit history for them.” One thing they do have? Mobile phones.
Cignifi has developed sophisticated modeling software that can look at usage data from consumers’ mobile phones and make predictions about who that person is and how they live. There’s no single data point —like making lots of short calls between 2 and 5 a.m. every morning —that suggests that someone is a bad credit risk. But Hakim says, “The way you use your phone is a proxy for your lifestyle. It’s not random. So we’re looking at things like the length of calls, the time of day, and the location you make them from. Also things like whether you top up [a pre-paid SIM card] regularly. We want to see how stable the patterns are. When you look at that, you can create these behavioral clusters that give you information about users’ appetite for new [financial] products, and their ability to repay a debt.”