Strata Conference: Big Data Fun, Pt. 1

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  • October 17, 2014
  • Helen Murphy

For the past two days, I have been in New York soaking in as much as I can about data at this year’s Strata Conference. For those that are not familiar with Strata (I was one of those individuals just last month), the conference is all about big data: how to collect it, use it, keep it safe and make it work for you or your business.

It’s been an overwhelming couple of days and I have a “research later” list about a mile long, but after sitting through two days of panels, there is one clear thought running through my head: with big data, comes big responsibility.

You can do some seriously cool things with data. I sat in on a session led by two data scientists from www.SumAll.org where they talked about how they use different data to predict and identify families that are at-risk for homelessness in New York. They are then able to work with a local non-profit to provide support services to these individuals. They use a variety of data streams to make this prediction: eviction notices filed in courts, check-ins a local homeless shelters and a vague “third-party data” source that they didn’t go too much in to. It was a fascinating talk and a good case study of big data being wielded for social good.

But this also exemplifies the potential power of big data for not-so-social good. What if the same data was used to discriminate instead of help? What if it were used to predict the likeliness of eviction and consequently keep a family from finding an apartment? Or what if some other data stream were introduced that found a correlation between at-risk for homelessness and job performance and employers used this information to narrow down a list of job applicants?

These questions are something I plan on looking in to over the weekend. Surely there are legal checks and balances that keep this kind of discrimination from happening. Right? I’ll let y’all know what I find out.

 

 

 

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