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10 Bits: The Data News Hot List

by Travis Korte
A new app allows trained volunteers to report handicapped parking violations directly to cities.

This week’s list of data news highlights covers September 6-13 and includes articles on a data-driven home renovation resource and a database of standardized test scores in England.

1. FAA Discloses New Data-Driven Safety System

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) disclosed Thursday that a new flight-tracking system helped identify over 4,000 incidents of planes flying too close together during the fiscal year ending September 30, 2012. The system, which collects more data and identifies many more minor errors than previous systems, is being touted by the FAA as a key component of their goal to “proactively address risk” of potential accidents. Critics have argued that the system makes it difficult to compare current data and data collected in prior systems, thereby inhibiting year-over-year trend analysis.

2. England’s Standardized Test Score Database

The Guardian has created a school database where parents, teachers and school administrators can compare results of the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) exam by school. The exam, which is taken by high school students for different subjects, is one of the most important standardized tests in the United Kingdom. The database, which went live this week, contains data from every “mainstream secondary school” across England over a four-year period.

3. State to Work With Policy Simulator Startup

Outline, the Cambridge, MA-based policy simulation startup that raised an undisclosed sum from the Knight Foundation this June, now has its first customer: the State of Massachusetts. Procurement documents reveal that Outline will provide the State with its budget simulation technology, and provide officials with a dashboard to help visualize the outcomes of proposed policies. Outline’s technology relies on a massive database of census and tax return data, which is then analyzed using sophisticated econometric models to produce predicted policy outcomes.

4. Crowdsourcing Handicapped Parking Enforcement

A new mobile app from Austin non-profit Parking Mobility enables trained volunteers to file reports of cars illegally parked in handicapped spaces. The app, which is being pitched to various cities, collects photos of the offending vehicles and automatically adds GPS coordinates and a timestamp. The app allows the city to investigate and levy fines on offenders; Parking Mobility would then take a cut of the fines to support the app.

5. How Data Can Dispel Hiring Myths

Several common myths about hiring can be busted using large-scale data analysis. For example, former convicts do not, in fact, make bad employees; they perform just as well as employees with no criminal record. Moreover, employees who have a strong presence on social media are not necessarily distracted from their work and have actually been shown to make more sales.

6. Consumer Readiness for Data Collection

“Just because you can doesn’t mean you should,” said Macy’s senior VP Julie Bernard, of the retail giant’s decision not to track customers by their mobile phone signals. At a conference this week, Bernard argued that retail firms should not “get ahead of consumer readiness” in this area, and that marketers must first do a better job of raising awareness of the broad benefits data collection and analysis can have to customers.

7. The Promise of Data Science in Medicine

The penetration of data science in medicine is far from complete, and one tech guru has very high expectations for the field. At the TechCrunch Disrupt SF conference this week, Venture capitalist Vinod Khosla opined that, “in the next 10 years, data science and software will do more for medicine than all of the biological sciences together.” But, he added, expertise in machine vision, robotics, machine learning and advanced sensing technologies will need to diffuse into healthcare to a much greater degree for this to occur.

8. Encouraging Gas Company Competition In Germany

Germany’s Federal Cartel Office plans to release an open database of fuel prices, allowing consumers to compare prices and aiding the government in cracking down on anti-competitive practices among the market’s five biggest fuel companies. The database will include price feeds from over 14,000 gas stations, and will be updated in real time.

9. The Insurance Industry’s Emerging Data Integration

Various business imperatives of the insurance industry, including claims management, pricing models and fraud prevention, are governed by data analysis. The need to integrate sophisticated analysis into business decisions looms large, alongside the need for more granular data. Savvy firms can benefit from creating internal, un-siloed “data hubs” for use by analysts across the company, as well as by using analytics to create better customer relationship management programs.

10. Data-Aided Home Renovation Resource

Buildzoom, a home remodeling information startup, helps prospective builders and remodelers navigate the complicated permitting and contracting processes involved in the home improvement process. The company pulls in millions of permitting records, which are then used to provide contractor recommendations to users. The startup now has over half a million monthly users.

Photo: Japhyryder / Creative Commons.

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