Public Sector News: Weighing the benefits of analytics and data privacy

June 2015, Issue 7

Digital Marketing Lead, Public Services Sector, IBM Analytics

The common theme in much of this week’s public sector news that captured our attention is data privacy and protection. How can we find the balance between using big data and analytics to improve citizen life and protecting citizen data privacy? In the age where a data deluge is the new norm, how do we protect this data from cyberthreats?

China suspected in massive breach of federal personnel data

The cybersecurity threat is palpable and threatens corporations, hospitals, schools and even governments. In a recent blog, Andrew Friedrich indicated that “a shift needs to be made from focusing not just on the attack, but on the attacker as well. This shift in thinking allows cyberdefenders to take investigations to the next level. That level goes beyond the attacking machine, or type of attack, to the source of the attack.” Friedrich may be right. According to Yahoo News, “China-based hackers are suspected of breaking into the computer networks of the US government personnel office and stealing identifying information of at least 4 million federal workers.” Four million federal employees! The impact of this breach could be far reaching too. According to an unnamed US official in the Yahoo News piece, “the information stolen could be used to impersonate or blackmail federal employees with access to sensitive information.”—Ken Dilanian and Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar for Yahoo News 

With big data comes big responsibility

There is no getting away from data whether it applies to sports, education or healthcare. Wikibon indicates that the big data market is an estimated $7.2 billion. All this data, however, brings both opportunities and responsibilities. “As a society, we must decide whether to champion the explosion of connected information or allow its detractors to significantly constrain the innovation and growth ahead…The data economy has both an incredible opportunity for growth and a real danger of stagnation. Only by committing to the responsible use of data can we transform our economy and the ways we operate within it.”—Craig Boundy for American Banker 

When big data becomes big brother

In a BBC News item, technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones relates a story about a computer scientist who was mapping London to spot which areas should be targeted for diabetes prevention measures. He used data from a variety of sources, including a credit-rating agency, to examine lifestyles and hence vulnerability to type 2 diabetes. This story brings up the ever-present big data and privacy debate. Predicting and preventing diabetes and saving lives are monumental undertakings; however, detractors rail against the use of citizen data. “As the big data gold rush continues, lawyers, ethicists and consumer groups are all going to have their work cut out to help us get a good balance between the risks and rewards of crunching the numbers.”—Rory Cellan-Jones for BBC News 

How big data can spot unemployment before the government can

As we consider the vast insight and innovation big data provides, privacy and ethics questions are ripe for debate. In an Ars Technica article, Cathleen O’Grady references two recent papers that consider how phone and social media use may provide indications of employment status. In one example, O’Grady mentions a case study involving a team that looked at what happened to mobile phone data in the aftermath of a significant layoff in a European factory. A question to consider is when does social good outweigh the demand for privacy? O’Grady quotes one the paper’s coauthors who pointed out that there are many avenues for intrusion by corporations and government despite the opportunity for proper usage that can be for public good and should not intrude on privacy.—Cathleen O’Grady for Ars Technica 

Why teachers shouldn’t be scared of big data

Should teachers be hesitant about using big data and analytics? Should their fears overshadow the innovations that analytics can provide? “Despite the clear value of big data in education, many teachers and education professionals have concerns, and these [concerns] are not groundless. Perhaps the most concerning of [them] are about data and identity protection, which demand that any data captured and used[…must be totally anonymous and secured." Analytics, however, is enabling educators to monitor, measure and impact student success. When combining the information that’s already being collected with new and more valuable data points, educators and administrators can become better at what they do.—Dominic Norrish for Learn to Earn 

Big data edges into MBA programs as companies demand analytics

I remember as a business student I avoided all things scientific or remotely related to technology during my BBA and then MBA studies. Of course, to work in technology I went back to school to pursue an MS in IT, as I was told that marketing was a soft degree. Looking now at how big data is changing education is quite interesting. “Business schools believe data analytics is essential for business leaders who will increasingly need data analysis to glean insight and drive decision making.” Seb Murray’s article in BusinessBecause paraphrases Greg La Blanc, finance and economics lecturer at California’s Haas School of Business, who said “that big data might be the most significant disruption to business since the industrial revolution.” In addition, La Blanc suggested that only by interacting with student engineers and data scientists can MBAs learn how to work with big data.—Seb Murray for BusinessBecause

Learn more about how we can protect citizen data.