Big Data 4 Development

Sensing Space with Big Data

Posted on May 25, 2017  /  0 Comments

The digital world is exploding with uncountable data. Millions of users generate information via thousands of sources every day. This data is then consumed for a number of purposes from business to entertainment. Is there a purpose and potential for big data beyond business and entertainment? The big data team at LIRNEasia is trying to answer this question.
Professor Gregg Vanderheiden has a record of achievements in enabling the differently abled to use technology such as personal computers and automated teller machines. Through Raising the Floor, an international organization that he established, Professor Vanderheiden is working on an ambitious initiative to create a platform that will make it possible for various interfaces to “morph” into forms accessible to users with disabilities (which includes many people who are not so identified ordinarily). For the interfaces to be fully responsive to the unique needs of each of the users, the platform would have to know about their preferences and behaviors. Raising the Floor is taking the issues of putting in place strong safeguards for these data and to ensure that harms are avoided. For this purpose, they convened expert groups in Geneva and Washington DC.
I’ve been working on privacy since 1991. I guess when one has been engaged with a subject deeply, one escapes the bubble effect: that of believing that one particular issue/value is paramount. But I interact with many people now, who seem to think that privacy is a paramount value even if some of the “safeguards” they want to put in place would basically make it impossible to use big data for the public good. Humans understand through analogical reasoning. So perhaps understanding about what we want to do with big data for the public good can be understood by this analogy with medical research using leftover materials from medical procedures?
Preparing for a session of the Privacy Advisory Group of UN Global Pulse and the UN Privacy Policy Group on 17-18 April, I had cause to reflect on some moves to develop new definitions (sensitive data, meta data and micro data). I may change my mind after listening to the deliberation, but here’s my starting position: Definitions are developed with some purpose in mind. A definition that is appropriate for one purpose may not be useful for another. Definitions embody assumptions and agendas. I believe that personally identifiable information (PII), a venerable category of data deeply embedded in privacy theory and practice is the only category of data requiring hard protection.
Fernando, L., Perera, A. S., Lokanathan, S., Ghouse, A.
LIRNEasia research fellow, Dharshana Kasthurirathna, Ph.D. presented a paper, ‘Detecting Geographically Distributed Communities using Community Networks,’ at the International Workshop on Mining for Actionable Insights in Social Networks that was held in conjunction with the Tenth ACM International Web Search and Data Mining Conference in Cambridge in February 2017. The paper was co-authored by three LIRNEasia research fellows (Dharshana Kasthurirathna, Madhushi Bandara, Danaja Maldeniya) and Mahendra Piraveenan from the University of Sydney. Based on the presentation, there was an invitation to extend the paper to be submitted to a special issue of the Elsevier Information System’s journal, with a draft journal paper due in April 2017.
In July of 2016, the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, announced a new multi-million dollar funding initiative to support collaborative data innovations for sustainable development. The University of Tokyo and Colombo-based LIRNEasia are among the winners in the pilot round of this initiative. Their proposal, entitled “Dynamic Census,” aims to improve the existing census approach by deriving insights from mobile operators’ call detail records (CDR). It will supplement population and housing census data by adding dynamic aspects of population distribution to changes in population distribution over time, at high frequency. More details.
Lokanathan, S., Perera-Gomez, T., Zuhyle, S.
Kasthurirathna, D., Piraveenan, M., Bandara, M. & Maldeniya, D.

Visit to University of Dhaka

Posted on February 11, 2017  /  0 Comments

Last weekend (3-4 February 2017), I along with my colleagues Shazna and Dedunu visited University of Dhaka. We were able to share our experiences in conducting policy relevant research on big data for development in Sri Lanka (see slides), with both faculty and students. The other objective was to meet with the faculty and staff associated with the Data and Design Lab at the university, which is a collaboration between Dhaka University and LIRNEasia. The lab is led by Dr. Moinul Zaber, who is a member of the faculty at Dhaka University and a Research Fellow with LIRNEasia.
The UN Data Innovation Lab invited LIRNEasia to share our experience in entering data partnerships and the challenges associated with the same, at a workshop held in Cape Town on the 19-20 January 2017. The workshop, co-hosted by UN Global Pulse, centred on designing data capacity within the UN system. The session conducted by LIRNEasia was attended by representatives from a range of UN agencies including UNICEF, UN WTO, UN Women and UNAIDS. In addition, other participants at the session included representatives from Flowminder and Facebook. I had the opportunity to share LIRNEasia’s experience in building relationships with the government and private sector data providers, particularly in terms of leveraging mobile data for urban planning and traffic management in Sri Lanka.

LIRNEasia at UN Data Forum

Posted on January 15, 2017  /  0 Comments

The UN Data Forum starts tomorrow. LIRNEasia’s Sriganesh Lokanathan will speak at the session organized by UN Global Pulse. Agenda.
We have been writing about competition issues around big data since 2014 (though I could claim 1991). Now the New York Times weighs in. The competition concerns echo those that gradually emerged in the 1990s about software and Microsoft. The worry is that as the big internet companies attract more users and advertisers, and gather more data, a powerful “network effect” effectively prevents users and advertisers from moving away from a dominant digital platform, like Google in search or Facebook in consumer social networks. Evidence of the rising importance of data can be seen from the frontiers of artificial intelligence to mainstream business software.
Data philanthropy was what UN Global Pulse came up with as a foundation for private entities donating data for public services. But now Uber has come up with another story. The site, which Uber will invite planning agencies and researchers to visit in the coming weeks, will allow outsiders to study traffic patterns and speeds across cities using data collected by tens of thousands of Uber vehicles. Users can use Movement to compare average trip times across certain points in cities and see what effect something like a baseball game might have on traffic patterns. Eventually, the company plans to make Movement available to the general public.
The Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science (SLAAS) is the primary “learned society” for Sri Lankan academics. It’s a rather staid outfit where I think you need multiple nominees to support your application to join and they reject papers if they’re not in the correct font (I may be exaggerating a little because this is based on my memories from the 1980s). Anyway, Sriganesh Lokanathan, Team Leader – Big Data Research at LIRNEasia had been asked by the University of Sri Jayewardenepura to pull together a 60 mt panel discussion on big data for development. He had got an excellent panel together, Ruvan Weerasinghe from University of Colombo/Informatics Institute of Technology, Shehan Perera from University of Moratuwa, Srinath Perera from WSO2 and himself. I moderated the panel.
Europe has been the fount of data protection absolutism. Not a problem for anyone else but countries such as Thailand and Indonesia are well on the way to model their legislation on the European model. But Chancellor Merkel has seen that the absolutist approach poses dangers to European consumers and businesses as well. Europeans are famous for banning things, Merkel said. These bans are put in place for good reason, she said, but can be damaging if taken to excess.