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What is the UN doing with your data?

If you allow another country to gain access to really critical data about your society, over time that will erode your sovereignty, you no longer have control over that data.

MI6 chief Richard Moore to BBC News (30 November 2021).

2011

France24: UN among victims of massive cyber-spying campaign

“Cyber-security experts have unveiled one of the biggest computer hacking campaigns to date, releasing a list of 72 organisations whose networks were attacked over a five-year period. Victims include the UN and several governments.

REUTERS – Security experts have discovered the biggest series of cyber attacks to date, involving the infiltration of the networks of 72 organizations including the United Nations, governments and companies around the world. … 

In the case of the United Nations, the hackers broke into the computer system of its secretariat in Geneva in 2008, hid there for nearly two years, and quietly combed through reams of secret data, according to McAfee.”

2017

June

BBC: Accenture and Microsoft plan digital IDs for millions of refugees

December

UNHCR: ID2020 and UNHCR Host Joint Workshop on Digital Identity

2019

June

Xinhua: China, UN to build big data research institute in Hangzhou

2020

January

The New Humanitarian: EXCLUSIVE: The cyber attack the UN tried to keep under wraps

“If there are no consequences for the [UN] agencies for failures like these … there will be more breaches.”

About this investigation:
While researching cybersecurity last November, we came across a confidential report about the UN. Networks and databases had been severely compromised – and almost no one we spoke to had heard about it. This article about that attack adds to The New Humanitarian’s previous coverage on humanitarian data. We look at how the UN got hacked and how it handled this breach, raising questions about the UN’s responsibilities in data protection and its diplomatic privileges.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/daveywinder/2020/01/30/united-nations-confirms-serious-cyberattack-with-42-core-servers-compromised/?sh=4cb9c05d633d

UN confirms it suffered a ‘serious’ hack, but didn’t inform employees

Approximately 4,000 employees may have had their data compromised.

April

Quartz: The UN is partnering with China’s biggest surveillance software company

Foreign Policy: EXCLUSIVE U.N.: Backs Down on Partnership With Chinese Firm for 75th Anniversary: The decision comes after U.S. officials and human rights advocates complained that Tencent aids Beijing in surveillance.

October

WSJ Opinion: China Uses the U.N. to Expand Its Surveillance Reach | In the name of ‘sustainable development,’ Beijing takes the lead in data collection efforts.

December

United Nations: Inauguration Ceremony Regional Hub for Big Data in China in support of the United Nations Global Platform

“I am very honoured to join you today in this inauguration ceremony of the Regional Hub for Big Data in China, in support of the United Nations Global Platform. The inauguration of this Regional Hub is most important, and timely. 

The demand for data, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, is greater than ever.  Governments are in need of detailed data on the spread of the virus and its impacts on society. Under these challenging circumstances, statistical institutes have had to respond urgently to the demand for data, and to present innovative solutions. Consequently, in these times of need, the statistical community is now able to effectively use Big Data and advanced technologies. 

For example, census data – together with detailed geospatial information – can help identify the most vulnerable populations during the pandemic. And, real-time data on the position and movement of ships, for example, can estimate the volume of cargo being transported, and thus help produce estimates on the state of the economy. These real-time shipping data are available as a global data set on the United Nations Global Platform, and can be accessed by the whole statistical community.”

2021

January

ITPro: United Nations suffers potential data breach: Hackers could have breached the database long before the UN applied a patch

March

Financial Times: Opinion Technology sector: As digital trade grows, so does western distrust of Beijing: China is moving to the forefront of global innovation but governments fear privacy breaches

April

Nikkei Asia: Comment: Data suspicions threaten to tear China and west apart: Applications by Chinese companies see 200-fold increase since 1999

May

UNHCR: Government of Pakistan delivers first new biometric identity smartcards to Afghan refugees

July

ODI: Although shocking, the Rohingya biometrics scandal is not surprising and could have been prevented

“The data privacy and security of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh has reportedly been jeopardised by the UN Refugee Agency. In an exposé published on 15 June by Human Rights Watch (HRW), UNHCR stands accused of improperly collecting the Rohingya’s biometric information and later sharing it with the Myanmar government without the Rohingya’s consent. Refugees said they had been told to register to receive aid, but the risks of sharing their biometrics had not been discussed, and the possibility this information would be shared with Myanmar was not mentioned.

The potential harm of sharing information with a regime that has a long history of manipulating registration systems to exclude and marginalise Rohingya populations is obvious. That biometrics are involved makes it worse. Unlike names or other personal information, biometrics are sticky – it’s not something you can change or escape.”

August

Reuters: ANALYSIS-Afghan panic over digital footprints spurs call for data collection rethink

Biometric Update: Concerns over Taliban accessing aid agency biometric data

“People in Afghanistan are fearful of the Taliban accessing personal information captured and stored by aid agencies including biometric data which could be used to identify individuals. Experts have raised concern that approaches used by security firms and United Nations development agencies could prove problematic for refugees and vulnerable groups, reports the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable trust of Thomson Reuters.

The Intercept reported that equipment used by the U.S. army for biometric collection has already been seized by the Taliban. Biometric data on Afghans who assisted the U.S. were widely collected, making anybody identified vulnerable to persecution from the Taliban.

Sources told the Intercept that there was little planning for such an event, while the U.S. Army plans to continue to spend another $11 million on biometrics capture equipment including 95 more devices.

The UNHCR has been using biometrics in the region since 2002 when it tested iris recognition technology on Afghan refugees in the Pakistani city of Peshawar. Aid agencies praise biometric technology’s anti fraud and contactless capabilities.”

September

Bloomberg: Cybersecurity

UN Computer Networks Breached by Hackers Earlier This Year

“Hackers breached the United Nations’ computer networks earlier this year and made off with a trove of data that could be used to target agencies within the intergovernmental organization. 

The hackers’ method for gaining access to the UN network appears to be unsophisticated: They likely got in using the stolen username and password of a UN employee purchased off the dark web.”

“Organizations like the UN are a high-value target for cyber-espionage activity,” Resecurity Chief Executive Officer Gene Yoo said. “The actor conducted the intrusion with the goal of compromising large numbers of users within the UN network for further long-term intelligence gathering.”

CPO Magazine: United Nations Data Breach: Hackers Obtained Employee Login From Dark Web, Are Executing Ongoing Attacks on UN Agencies

“A spokesperson for the United Nations has confirmed that the organization was breached by hackers in early 2021, and that attacks tied to that breach on various branches of the UN are ongoing. The data breach appears to stem from an employee login that was sold on the dark web. The attackers used this entry point to move farther into the UN’s networks and conducted reconnaissance between April and August. Information gleaned from this activity appears to have been put to use in further attacks, with attempts made on at least 53 accounts.”

UN data breach creates long-term havoc for organization

“The UN has a unique need for cutting-edge cybersecurity given that it is one of the world’s prime targets for hackers, and that it fields regular attacks from advanced operators. Many of these go unrecorded, but the organization has weathered some high-profile attacks in recent years.”

“Unique Identity for All”: Biometric identity is being rolled out across the planet. HSB is one of the many players in this fast-growing data collection sector. Companies such as HSB collect data on behalf of international organisations.
This story is from 1992 and is a rare glimpse into Canada’s data sharing agreements with the US and other countries.

Data integrity and cross-border data sharing have been concerns for a very long time. False Data Makes Border Screening Corruptible

Further Reading:

There’s a War Going On But No One Can See It by Huib Modderkolk, Bloomsbury, 02 Sept. 2021

“Based on the cases he investigated over a period of six years, award-winning Dutch journalist Huib Modderkolk takes the reader on a tour of the corridors and back doors of the globalised digital world. He reconstructs British-American espionage operations and reveals how the power relationships between countries enable intelligence services to share and withhold data from each other.”  

The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power by Shoshana Zuboff, Profile Books, 2019

“Surveillance Capitalism: A new phase in economic history in which private companies and governments track your every move with the goal of predicting and controlling your behaviour. Under surveillance capitalism you are not the customer or even the product: you are the raw material.”

BBC News: MI6 boss warns of China ‘debt traps and data traps’

“In a wide-ranging interview ahead of his first major public speech since taking on the role as head of MI6, Mr Moore:

  • warned China has the capability to “harvest data from around the world” and uses money to “get people on the hook” …

“Speaking about the threat posed by China, Mr Moore described its use of “debt traps and data traps”.

He said Beijing is “trying to use influence through its economic policies to try and sometimes, I think, get people on the hook”.

Explaining the “data trap”, he said: “If you allow another country to gain access to really critical data about your society, over time that will erode your sovereignty, you no longer have control over that data.

“That’s something which, I think, in the UK we are very alive to and we’ve taken measures to defend against.”

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False Data Makes Border Screening Corruptible

“Big Brother” system could violate rights of Canada’s visitors

By David South

Now Magazine (Toronto, Canada), May 21-27, 1992

New technology that can spew out a person’s life history in less than six seconds is now available to Canada’s customs and immigration officials.

And while Canada customs and immigration officers say this toy is a boon – replacing the need to memorize names of so-called undesirables – civil rights workers and refugee activists point out that the gizmo could have serious consequences, with little recourse.

The technology is called PALS, or primary automated look out system, and is already in operation at airports in Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Winnipeg, Ottawa and Vancouver.

PALS’ operation is based on the use of computer-readable passports. Canada is one of several countries that have started including computer strips on passports and identity cards. Officers use PALS by either keying in a special number printed on the passport or identity card or using a scanning machine to read the strip.

The system went into effect at Toronto’s Pearson airport on January 20, after a three-year pilot project in Vancouver, adding Canada to the 11 countries that have machine readers for passports. Under the old system, customs officers combined judgement, questioning and the most-wanted list to decide if a passenger required further interrogation and search.

During a demonstration of the system, customs officials at Pearson airport boast about the system’s role in apprehending a drug smuggler in PALS’ first week of operation.

Sinister sign

But to civil libertarians with experience of such systems in other countries, PALS hasa sinister implication. Many say that PALS spews out what is fed into it. And depending on the country involved, what is fed into it may not necessarily be true.

While customs emphasizes PALS’ role in apprehending popular targets like drug smugglers, terrorists and child kidnappers, its reach also includes people who have smuggled in too many cigarettes or bottles of alcohol, convicted criminals who have finished serving their time, immigrants, refugees and a range of petty offenders.

All of these face a second interrogation and detention based on what their governments have decided to incorporate into the computer strip. And it is this that worries civil libertarians and refugee workers.

Consider the case of a legally sponsored Portuguese immigrant who arrived at Pearson just after PALS had been introduced. He was detained based on information stored in PALS. His immigration lawyer Ali Mohideen recalls how the man was held because of a cheque that he bounced in his native Portugal about eight years ago.

Ed Lam, director of research for the Canadian Ethnocultural Council, feels customs and immigration already have “too many powers.” He regularly receives complaints from visible minorities and immigrants who feel they are singled out for harassment at the airport.

“This is big brother. Legal protection is not enough,” he argues. “It leads to costly court battles with the government. I would like to see an ombudsperson or complaints bureau set up. As for refugees turned back at the border, we will never hear from them.”

False data

Other critics, especially those in the US, where a PALS-type system has been in operation for more than a decade, worry that the system will simply accept information given by tyrannical governments.

“It is hard to trace false information to a foreign government,” says Jeanne Woods, legislative counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union, which monitors abuse under the United States system.

“People have been accused of being communists or terrorists who have denied it. The El Salvadoran government is one example of a regime which has called prominent human rights activists and lawyers terrorists.”

She would like the Canadian Parliament to pass a law similar to one passed last November in the US requiring the state department to report to Congress when somebody is denied access because they have been called a terrorist, so that the origin of the information can be tracked.

“People have been accused of being communists or terrorists who have denied it. The El Salvadoran government is one example of a regime which has called prominent human rights activists and lawyers terrorists.”

The Canadian database draws its information from several sources, according to customs spokesperson Suzanne Bray. The sources include immigration records and the Police Information Retrieval System, which is a database shared between customs and the RCMP.

Bray refuses to divulge any other sources, citing security, but both RCMP and customs operate their own intelligence services, sharing information with their counterparts all over the world, especially the US. Information is also drawn from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and its sister organizations such as the CIA. However, CSIS spokesperson Ray Boisvert says they have adequate safeguards against false information provided by countries known to be human rights abusers.

“CSIS does look at bias in intelligence reports,” he says.

The US equivalent of PALS has been criticized after several cases of abuse were detected. Gara LaMarche, executive director of the Fund for Free Expression, a project of US-based Human Rights Watch, has documented abuse on political and ideological grounds.

“The US public has a right to hear dissenting views under the first amendment of the Constitution,” he says. “I don’t think improving the technology of border control violates civil liberties, but keeping a massive database of information which includes people’s political associations is bad.”

Similar concerns are expressed by John Tackaberry of Amnesty International in Ottawa, which is only now beginning its own analysis of PALS. “We have concerns over data input, who controls information and basic civil liberties.”

Even as Canadian civil rights activists take stock of PALS, Canada customs is planning to use it to check cross-border shopping by expanding the system to all land entry points.

As for those visitors who feel wronged by PALS, they may have a problem seeking redress from such organizations as the Canadian Human Rights Commission. A spokesperson says the CHRC can only help those who have been admitted to Canada. And visitors turned back at the border are not considered admitted.

Sherry Gerstl, a customs superintendent responsible for the implementation of PALS at Pearson, says that people can also appeal to the Privacy Act to see information that is kept on them. But two fact sheets explaining how this can be done are located in a corner, pretty much out of public view.

Bray acknowledges that “honest” passengers could face the prospect of a search with PALS, but given its positive attributes, she says, passengers involved in such delays should simply “grin and bear it.”

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Data Surge across Global South Promises to Re-shape the Internet

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

The deluge of data gathered by the digital revolution underway in the global South continues to offer a significant economic opportunity. How this data is harvested will forge the successful Internet business models of the future.

As the Internet spreads its way further across the global South, many are forecasting this new surge in web users and the data they generate will radically reshape the way people engage with and use the Internet. Unlike previous generations of web users, most of these new users will be accessing the Internet primarily with mobile phones and other devices, rather than computers. Many will not be native English speakers.

Argentinian philosopher and digital publisher Octavio Kulesz says “the digital experiences undertaken in the South suggest that new technologies represent a great opportunity for developing countries … but on the condition that local entrepreneurs seek out original models adapted to the concrete needs of their communities.”

In a report for the International Alliance of Independent Publishers, Kulesz said we “must ask ourselves how useful it would be to reproduce the prototypes from the North in the South.”

According to the Cisco Visual Networking Index Forecast (2010-2015), by 2015, there will be 3 billion Internet users in the world: 40 percent of the global population. Internet Protocol (IP) traffic is growing fastest in Latin America, where it is forecast to grow by 50 percent from 2010 to 2015. Next are the Middle East and Africa.

There are already as many networked devices – tablets, mobile phones, connected appliances and smart machines – on the planet as people. By 2015 – the year of the Millennium Development Goals (http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals) – they’ll outnumber people by two to one.

The potential of the Internet revolution is especially compelling in Africa, a continent neglected for so long in the global communications revolution. The 10,000 kilometre-long East African Submarine Cable System (EASSy), connecting sub-Saharan Africa with Europe and Asia, has joined other cables from the continent. Gradually, the infrastructure is coming in to place to connect Africa properly to the world.

The first batch of Internet users came from the United States, home of the Internet which grew out of the US military’s Arpanet system (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ARPANET). This first wave of the Internet’s history was very much an American phenomenon. The priorities and content of the web were driven by the cultural and economic concerns of its American users. And the big brands of today’s web reflect this: Google, Facebook, eBay, Twitter, Yahoo, WordPress, to name a few.

As the web expanded across wealthy, developed nations in Europe, users mostly mimicked the priorities of the American approach, using the web to express themselves, be entertained, share files, access government services and sell and market products and services.

But the spread of the Internet across the global South is already showing itself to have a different character and set of priorities. One change is in the way people are accessing the web: through mobile phones and other devices, rather than through laptops and personal computers.

In the future, the trend is towards a global mobile world, in which the communications medium will favour video and audio over text, according to Fast Company magazine (http://www.fastcompany.com). Information is being shared across boundaries on a vast scale for the first time. People around the world are gaining access to data and information never available before, and all of it is nearly instantaneous.

Kulesz said countries of the South face a profound and difficult decision: follow the lead taken by the technology pioneers of the South, or try and replicate what was done in the North?

“Sooner or later, these countries will have to ask themselves what kind of digital publishing highways they must build,” his report said, “and they will be faced with two very different options: a) financing the installation of platforms designed in the North; b) investing according to the concrete needs, expectations and potentialities of local authors, readers and entrepreneurs. Whatever the decision of each country may be, the long-term impact will be immense.”

The costs of trying to replicate the technological infrastructure of the North makes little sense, when it is technologically possible to bypass this costly infrastructure with even newer work-arounds.

“Of course, it would be extraordinary to obtain 80 percent Internet penetration in Africa or make huge investments in infrastructure throughout the developing regions,” continues Kulesz, “but that may never happen. And in the event that it does occur some day, by then the industrialized countries will no doubt have made another technological leap, meaning that the disparity in infrastructure would still persist. So the most effective option is to start working right now, with what is available.”

New global magazine Southern Innovator (http://www.scribd.com/doc/57980406/Southern-Innovator-Issue-1), published by UNDP’s Special Unit for South-South Cooperation, captures how this process is happening, as the people of the global South re-shape the Internet to be their own and to meet their needs.

Resources

1) Southern Innovator: New global magazine first issue gives a snapshot of the big changes across the global South in mobile phones and information technology. Website:http://www.scribd.com/doc/57980406/Southern-Innovator-Issue-1

2) Cisco Visual Networking Index Forecast (2010-2015): The annual Cisco VNI Forecast was developed to estimate global Internet Protocol traffic growth and trends. Widely used by service providers, regulators, and industry influencers alike, the Cisco VNI Forecast is based on in-depth analysis and modelling of traffic, usage and device data from independent analyst forecasts. Website:http://newsroom.cisco.com/press-release-content?type=webcontent&articleId=324003

3) Digital Publishing in Developing Countries: A report by the International Alliance of Independent Publishers. Website: http://alliance-lab.org/etude/archives/date/2010/01?lang=en

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Big Data Can Transform the Global South’s Growing Cities

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

New UNOSSC banner Dev Cha 2013

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

The coming years will see a major new force dominating development: Big Data. The term refers to the vast quantities of digital data being generated as a result of the proliferation of mobile phones, the Internet and social media across the global South – a so-called ‘data deluge’ (UN Global Pulse). It is an historically unprecedented surge in data, much of it coming from some of the poorest places on the planet and being gathered in real time.

Big Data will have a profound impact on how the cities of the future develop, and will re-shape the way the challenges and problems of human development are handled.

Estimates by Cisco (cisco.com) foresee 10 billion mobile Internet-enabled devices around the world by 2016. With the world population topping 7.3 billion by then, that will work out to 1.4 devices per person.

Some estimates say 90 per cent of the digital data ever generated in the world has been produced in the past two years. It is also estimated that available digital data will increase by 40 per cent every year (UN Global Pulse). This digital transformation is being accompanied by another trend: the largest migration in human history from rural to semi-urban and urban areas.

This presents an unprecedented opportunity to make this rapid urbanization and social change smarter and more responsive to human needs, and to avoid the failures of the past, from over-crowding to crime, disease, pollution, unemployment and poverty. Some believe data collection can radically alter development by flagging up problems quickly, giving cities the chance to respond and correct negative trends before they get out of control. In short, to build in resilience by way of digital technology.

The latest region to see rapid industrialization and urbanization has been Asia – in particular China, a country that since the 1980s has simultaneously lifted the largest number of people in world history out of poverty and undertaken the biggest migration ever from rural to urban areas.

And now Africa is beginning to follow in Asia’s wake.

Unlike previous waves of industrialization and urbanization, Africa’s transformation is occurring in the age of the mobile phone, the Internet, personal computers and miniature electronic devices capable of more computing power than the computers used during the Apollo space programme (http://www.nasa.gov/audience/foreducators/diypodcast/rocket-evolution-index-diy.html). This changes the game significantly.

This 21st-century approach to urban growth is at its most sophisticated, and utopian, in so-called “smart cities.” These are built-from-scratch cities that use the “Internet of Things”, where everything, from lamp posts to garbage bins to roads are embedded with microchips and radio frequency transmitters (RFID chips) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radio-frequency_identification) to communicate data in real time. By analyzing this data, cities can be responsive to human needs and mitigate problems – improving waste collection and traffic management, reducing crime and pollution. Services can be customized to residents’ needs and liberate them to spend more time on things that matter such as their own health, family, work and hobbies. Examples of these cities include Tianjin Eco-city (tianjinecocity.gov.sg) in China, Masdar (masdar.ae) in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates and Songdo International Business District (songdo.com) in the Republic of Korea.

These experimental smart cities are springing up in the East, and it will be the East – as well as Africa – that will see most of the action going forward. As the global management consulting firm McKinsey noted in its report Urban World: Mapping the Economic Power of Cities: “Over the next 15 years, the center of gravity of the urban world will move south and, even more decisively, east.”

Cities in the global South will be generating the new prosperity of the 21st century. And it is widely accepted that people living in cities have the potential to become very efficient economically while rapidly driving prosperity higher.

The McKinsey report says that “by 2025, developing-region cities of the City 600 (a list gathered by McKinsey) will be home to an estimated 235 million middle-class households earning more than (US) $20,000 a year at purchasing power parity (PPP).

“Emerging-market mega-and middleweight cities together – 423 of them are included in the City 600 – are likely to contribute more than 45 percent of global growth from 2007 to 2025 (http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/urbanization/urban_world).”

The world’s future prosperity is going to be found in the urban, the digitally connected, and the middle class.

Tracking all this digital change is the UN Global Pulse. UN Global Pulse (unglobalpulse.org) was started by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in 2009 with a mandate to study these changes and build expertise in applying Big Data to global development. UN Global Pulse functions as a network of innovation labs where research on Big Data for development is conceived and coordinated. It partners with experts from UN agencies, governments, academia, and the private sector to research, develop, and mainstream approaches for applying real-time digital data to 21st-century development challenges.

Unlike major technological trends of the past, this one is not restricted to the industrialized, developed world. Through the spread of mobile phone technology, billions of people are now using a device that constantly collects digital data, even in the poorest places on earth.

From an international development perspective, Big Data has five characteristics, according to UN Global Pulse: it is digitally generated, passively produced by people interacting with digital services, automatically collected, can be geographically or temporally traced and can be continuously analyzed in real time.

Sources of Big Data include chatter from social networks, web server logs, traffic flow sensors, satellite imagery, telemetry from vehicles and financial market data.

The key to using Big Data is combining datasets and then contrasting them in lots of different ways and doing it very quickly. The purpose?  Better decision-making, based on an understanding of what is really happening on the ground.

This data exceeds the capability of existing database software. It is either too much, or comes in too quickly, or can’t be handled using current software technology. Tackling this problem is creating a whole new wave of opportunities for those working in information technology.

As technology and processing power continue to improve, the cost of wrestling with this data and putting it to use is coming down.

The data can be analyzed for patterns and hidden information that before would have been too difficult to gather. This approach has been used by big companies such as WalMart (walmart.com), but it has cost them a large amount of money and time.

Pioneers in Big Data include search engine Google, email and search provider Yahoo, online shopping service Amazon and social media service Facebook. Many supermarkets use Big Data to analyze the way customers behave when they are shopping, combining it with their social and geographical data.

But new developments in hardware, cloud architecture, and open-source software mean Big Data processing is more accessible, including for small start-ups, who can just rent the capacity required on a cloud-based service (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloud_computing).

In the past, governments and planners had a ready excuse as to why they could not keep on top of ballooning urban populations and the chaos they brought. They could just throw up their hands and say “We do not know who these people are or what to do about them!”

This excuse does not work in the age of the mobile phone. It is now relatively easy to deploy the power of the networked computing inside mobile phones to map urban slums and identify the needs of the people there. Parse that data, and you have an accurate account of what is happening in the slum – all in real-time.

Making sense of all this information is creating its own new industries as innovators, entrepreneurs and companies step forward to chart this brave new world.

Historically, significant improvements in human development have occurred only after large-scale gathering of data and information on the actual living conditions of the population. For example, prototypes of today’s infographics (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infographic) – informative visual representations of complex data – were created during the great attempts at tackling poverty and disease in Europe in the 19th century. Today’s masters of this technique include the Swedish doctor, academic and statistician Hans Rosling (gapminder.org), whose dynamic infographics are renowned for changing people’s perceptions of global problems.

UN Global Pulse notes “much of the data used to track progress toward the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) dates back to 2008 or earlier and doesn’t take into account the more recent economic crisis.

“While this may feed a perception that there is a scarcity of information about the wellbeing of populations, the opposite is in fact true. Thanks to the digital revolution, there is an ocean of data, being continuously generated in both developed and developing nations, that did not exist even a few years ago.”

UN Global Pulse believes Big Data can be used to protect social development gains when crises strike. Rather than undoing decades of good development work and human development achievements, Big Data can help to create agile responses to crisis as it happens.

UN Global Pulse believes the same data, tools and analytics used by business can be turned to help the public sector understand “where people are losing the fight against hunger, poverty and disease, and to plan or evaluate a response.”

Resources

1) Big Data: The Next Frontier for Innovation, Competition, and Productivity, Publisher: McKinsey Global Institute. Website: mckinsey.com

2) United Nations Global Pulse: Global Pulse is an innovation initiative launched by the Executive Office of the United Nations Secretary-General, in response to the need for more timely information to track and monitor the impacts of global and local socio-economic crises. The Global Pulse initiative is exploring how new, digital data sources and real-time analytics technologies can help policymakers understand human well-being and emerging vulnerabilities in real-time, in order to better protect populations from shocks. Website: http://www.unglobalpulse.org/

3) Business Models for the Data Economy by Q. Ethan McCallum and Ken Gleason. Website: http://www.oreilly.com/data/free/business-models-for-the-data-economy.csp?intcmp=il-strata-free-product-lgen_biz_models_for_data_economy_strata_right_rail

4) Building Data Science Teams by D. J. Patil, Publisher: Radar. Website: http://www.oreilly.com/data/free/building-data-science-teams.csp

5) Big Data for Development Primer, Publisher: UN Global Pulse. Website: http://www.slideshare.net/unglobalpulse/big-data-for-development-a-primer

6) Mobile Phone Network Data for Development, Publisher: UN Global Pulse. Website: http://www.slideshare.net/unglobalpulse/mobile-data-for-development-primer-october-2013

7) Big Data, Big Impact: New Possibilities for International Development, Publisher: World Economic Forum. Website: http://www.weforum.org/reports/big-data-big-impact-new-possibilities-international-development

8) How numbers rule the world by Lorenzo Fioramonti, Publisher: Zed Books. Website: http://www.zedbooks.co.uk/node/16850

9) Southern Innovator Issue 1: Mobile Phones and Information Technology: Considered a landmark work capturing this fast-changing field, Issue 1 comes packed with stories and contacts. Website: http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Q1O54YSE2BgC&dq=southern+innovator+issue+1&source=gbs_navlinks_s

10) Urban world: Mapping the economic power of cities published by McKinsey Global Institute. Website: http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/urbanization/urban_world

11) Hadoop: Is open source software for handling of large data sets across clusters of computers using simple programming models. Website: http://hadoop.apache.org/

12) Pivotal: Pivotal develops software applications for big data. A testimonial on the Pivotal website sums it up: “With the ability to load a day’s worth of data for a million meters in under fifty (50) seconds, we are able to keep up with the tremendous amount of data generated and start experimenting with many useful smart grid analytics.” Website: gopivotal.com

13) TotallyDot: A way to centralize all the social media people use into a single page. Website: totallydot.com


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