Big Data Mining for Social Causes
This article from the New York Times discusses how organizations such as the United Nations Global Pulse Team are taking big data results and transforming them into information to help society. The UN team is dedicated to watching trends on social media in order to predict where disease outbreaks and economic problems are starting. For example, the team watches Twitter feeds for spikes in unemployment before it becomes a full blown problem. They also watch Twitter for signs of flu outbreaks or other diseases. These types of centers exist all over the world specifically to help the UN stay on the front lines of problems.
Other companies use big data mining through social media to respond to natural disasters. By monitoring Twitter and Facebook after a major disaster insurance companies can respond quicker and more accurately to the hardest hit areas. Other groups such at the American Red Cross can pin point what people need the most (such as blankets, water, food, clothes, etc.).
Of course collecting this much personal information about individuals can be tricky and often raises questions about privacy. To help with this issue some people in the big data community are advocating for what they call “data philanthropy” or having companies strip away personal information from data before handing it over. Through this process the company that actually interprets the data never sees who created it.
Even though big data can be very useful in helping create a better environment for us all its important to keep in mind what exactly is being collected about our lives.