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10 Bits: The Data News Hot List

by Travis Korte
New Zealand

This week’s list of data news highlights covers April 26-May 2 and includes articles on the White House big data report and the DATA Act’s passing in Congress.

1. White House Releases Report on Big Data

The White House published a report this week that explores the impact of big data on the economy, government, and society. The report noted the many ways that data is creating saving lives, making the government work better, and improving the economy. It also outlined a series of recommendations to promote privacy, fairness, and non-discrimination.

2. DATA Act Passes House, Awaits President’s Signature

The House of Representatives passed H.R. 2061, The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act), this week. The bill, which will standardize and publish federal spending data, now awaits President Obama’s signature. The bill will enable large-scale analysis of federal financial data, and help oversight groups identify fraud, waste, and abuse.

3. Big Data Review’s Technical Counterpart

The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, an advisory group of scientists and engineers, released a technical report on big data to supplement the White House’s report. The report discusses both current and future capabilities of technologies related to big data. The group made a number of recommendations, including that lawmakers focus less on the collection of data, and more on its actual uses.

4. App Company Creating World’s Largest Nutrition Database

Health tracking app company MyFitnessPal is creating the world’s largest nutrition database from information it collects from users. MyFitnessPal, one of the first mobile app makers to track food intake, is considering how to best make use of its data. Although it has not permitted health care providers and researchers to use its data so far, the firm’s CEO expects that the data will eventually have a valuable place in health care.

5. Food Trends Startup Pivots on Data Insight

Chicago-based menu data startup Food Genius set out two years ago to help big food companies identify nationwide taste trends, but the data has shown that such trends may not exist. In fact, eating trends tend to be regional, rather than national, so Food Genius’s CEO suggests food companies invest more effort in catering to smaller markets. Although the data is not what the Food Genius team expected, it has proven valuable nonetheless, attracting clients from food producers to distributors. Next, the company plans to use economic data from the U.S. Census bureau to ensure that its market intelligence offering is as accurate as possible.

6. New Zealand Opens Aerial Imagery Data

Land Information New Zealand, the country’s federal geospatial agency, made a cache of aerial imagery data available under a Creative Commons license this week. The imagery covers 95 percent of New Zealand’s territory and the agency’s minister expects the release to generate economic benefits in the private sector. The data is not yet available for full download, but users can request especially large datasets for delivery.

7. App Uses Hashtags, Drone Imagery to Aid First Responders

The Carbon Project, a geosocial networking and cloud computing firm, has released “Carbon Scanner,” an application that mines Twitter hashtags related to natural disasters and produces a map to aid emergency workers in pinpointing affected areas. Users can also get satellite or even drone imaging data when areas are too dangerous for human responders. So far, the company has tested its software on floods in several regions in the United States and Canada.

8. Sharing 100,000 Volunteers’ Genomic Data

Scientists working on the Personal Genome Project met this week with a new batch of volunteers, who will contribute data from their genomes, tissues, health records, and other sources. This data could ultimately be used to support medical research across a broad range of subfields; however, the project’s immediate goal is still data collection. Some 3,360 participants have enrolled, and ultimately organizers hope to reach 100,000 participants. The Personal Genome Project’s executive director notes that the project could also serve as a prototype for the legal and technical infrastructure necessary to support more widespread medical data sharing.

9. Massachusetts Invests in Cloud, Big Data

The Governor of Massachusetts announced a $3 million investment in the Massachusetts Open Cloud (MOC) project last week, which will link universities and industry to create a new public cloud infrastructure. The MOC will offer a range of cloud services, from data processing to infrastructure-as-a-service. The governor also announced the 2014 Mass Big Data Report, which tracks the growth and competitiveness of the commonwealth’s data-driven industry. The report finds that the global big data market is expected to exceed $48 billion by 2017 and that local firms will seek to fill up to 3,000 big data-related jobs in the state over the next year.

10. The Impact of Wearables at Work

Wearable technology has made a big impact in fitness and diet trackers, but its greatest influence may yet to be felt in the workplace. The Human Cloud at Work research collaboration equipped study participants with accelerometers, biosensors, and posture monitors to study productivity and other job-related effects. The researchers found that the wearables increased productivity by 8.5 percent and job satisfaction by 3.5 percent over a three week period. They offer use cases for workplace wearables, such as scheduling meetings during hours when a user knows he or she will be most productive. The authors plan to repeat the study on a larger sample to assess the long-term implications of this technology.

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