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10 Bits: The Data News Hot List

by Travis Korte
Raleigh, N.C.'s Open Raleigh initiative is thriving.

This week’s list of data news highlights covers January 25-31 and includes articles on an initiative to map prostitution at the Super Bowl and a product that could one day alleviate traffic congestion by helping drivers make more green lights.

1. Mapping Prostitution at the Super Bowl

Human trafficking researchers have teamed up with a defense intelligence contracting firm to investigate prostitution at the Super Bowl using technology designed to track terrorism activity and map networks of insurgents in Afghanistan. The group is scraping the Internet for a variety of data, including telephone numbers in escort ads and coded language used to signal illegal activity. Preliminary data indicates that sex workers are being transported from over half the states in the United States.

2. White House Proposes Major Changes to DATA Act

The DATA Act, which aims to standardize and publish a wide range of government-held financial data, passed nearly unanimously through the House of Representatives last year, but now faces challenges from the White House. A marked up version of the Senate bill from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) leaked online this week, and advocates of the DATA Act say the changes would gut the legislation. OMB’s version would do away with requirements to report the data in standardized formats and publish it on a single platform, as well as delay the bill’s implementation.

3. Helping Cars Make Every Green Light

Traffic Light Assist, a dashboard product from automaker Audi, takes data from city traffic signals and the user’s car itself and recommends a driving speed sufficient to make it through the next green light. The product, which was demoed at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month, is being tested in three European cities. The primary obstacle to implementing such a product in the United States is that many cities do not yet make traffic signal data readable to individual cars. Some U.S. cities have expressed interest for the future.

4. Mobile Phone Data Reveals New Insights on Cities

Mobile phone data has already been applied to a wide range of analysis, including anthropological studies and investigations of wealth distribution. But research published this week takes the data even further, attempting to automatically map and classify cities according to the daily and weekly rhythms of mobile phone activity as people move to and from the urban core. The research looked at the 31 Spanish cities with populations larger than 200,000 and found insights such as the fact that the peak in evening phone traffic occurs about an hour later in the western part of the country than in the eastern part.

5. How Data Is Improving Online Gaming

Game companies are changing their business models in a variety of ways in response to large amounts of data on player behavior. For one, increasingly companies are investing in employees that stay involved with a game long after launch, changing marketing and incentives in response to how people play the game. Also, data has allowed mobile game companies to identify freeloaders, serving ads to those players who have played for a long time but never paid for anything in-game.

6. Student Uses Big Data to Combat Bullying

A middle school student in Virginia is using text data from social networks to map bullying activity in the United States. The web app, which is still in development, is intended to be a tool for parents to track bullying activity in their area. The creator hopes to eventually be able to predict bullying hotspots, allowing law enforcement to intervene in particularly severe cases.

7. Raleigh’s Thriving Open Data Initiative

The City of Raleigh, North Carolina’s Open Raleigh initiative is thriving, thanks to the city’s commitment to open data and advisory help from Code for America. Open Raleigh includes an open data portal, a program to expand Internet access in underserved areas, and a directive to use open source technologies in its municipal procurement. City administrators hope the initiative will spur economic development and improve government services.

8. LA Times Honors Homicide Victims with Interactive Visualization

The Los Angeles Times’ Homicide Report, a database to map all the killings in Los Angeles (LA) County since 2007, received an upgrade last week that includes an interactive map visualization of the homicides. Users can zoom into specific blocks to see locations where people were killed and click on the locations to find related Times stories. The map includes data on race and cause of death, showing that gun violence accounted for 74 percent of homicides; it also shows that one third of deaths from homicide since 2007 were African American, even though only 8 percent of LA’s population is black.

9. Firms Using Data To Promote Sustainability

In addition to its impact on the bottom line for many businesses, large scale data analysis can contribute to companies’ sustainability initiatives as well. Increasingly available data can help companies monitor their entire supply chain and make decisions based on insights about raw materials and suppliers far beyond the scope of the company itself. Firms such as Nike and Ikea have already launched initiatives to understand the holistic environmental and social impacts of their business. Other groups, such as communications services firm BT Group, are using data to better understand and reduce their carbon footprint.

10. The Rise of the Chief Data Officer

The growth of “big data” and related technologies has put a big strain on Chief Information Officers across industries, leading to the rise of the Chief Data Officer position. A report released this week from Gartner predicts that by the end of 2014, 25 percent of large global organizations will have hired a CDO. Also in the report is the observation that this role may help address the gender imbalance present throughout information technology industries; 25 percent of CDOs surveyed were women, compared to 13 percent of CIOs.

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