Using Mobile-derived Big Data 4 Social Good – Reflections from the UN’s first World Data Forum, Cape Town, January 2017

January 31, 2017 | Digital Identity | Global | Yiannis Theodorou

Earlier this month, the GSMA attended the UN’s first World Data Forum in Cape Town. The 3-day event brought together more than 2000 experts from public and private institutions to discuss how data can be used for sustainable development and life-enhancing services.

Unsurprisingly, the potential of mobile-derived insights – including mobility data from Call-Data Records (CDRs) – to inform policy decisions featured heavily in a number of panel discussions. [A CDR is a data record produced by a telephone exchange or other telecommunications device that documents the details of a telephone call or text message etc. that passes through that device. The record contains various attributes of the call, such as time, duration, completion status, source number, destination number and – in the case of mobile calls – the location of the cell tower used for the call/text exchange.]

Organisations including Flowminder, Data Pop Alliance and World Pop presented a number of ‘Big Data for Social Good’ (BD4SG) case studies on how mobile-operator data can be enriched with data from other sources to save lives. For example, by helping target humanitarian aid in the aftermath of natural disasters, track epidemics and population displacements, understanding the impact of climate change, etc.

GSMA also co-hosted a Round-Table workshop jointly with UN Global Pulse, drilling down to some of the key challenges to achieving scalable and sustainable BD4SG applications, and how to overcome them. Some of the main mobile-related points of discussion are outlined below:

    • PRIVACY: Individuals’ privacy concerns remain top on the list of barriers for data-sharing due to the risks involved with (hypothetical) data misuse. However, it is important to also consider the opportunity costs of NOT using the data and the inevitable harms that will materialise (loss of life, sub-standard early warning systems, etc.).
    • ENABLING POLICY ENVIRONMENTS: There is a need for robust policy frameworks and ‘ethical use of data’ agreements to be in place, not just among the data providers but also among the policymakers involved in terms of how they use the insights gained.
    • CAPACITY: Lack of capacity (technical knowhow and tools to perform data-analytics) remains a challenge for smaller mobile operators – Global NGOs and international institutions have a role to play in raising awareness around the benefits/value of such data analytics tools.
    • PARTNERSHIPS: The value of Big Data lies in the analysis of the data – Multi-stakeholder collaboration is therefore key in defining what data is required, how the algorithmic analysis will be performed, how the derived insights are enriched with other data sources and finally to ensure the exported output is made relevant for the target audience.

The GSMA and the UN Global Pulse have jointly commissioned a landscaping report covering case studies, opportunities and challenges on the use of mobile-derived Big Data for Social Good. The report will be launched at Mobile World Congress 2017 so watch this space!

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