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10 Bits: The Data News Hot List

by Travis Korte
Yosemite National Park

This week’s list of data news highlights covers November 1-7 and includes articles about a Facebook initiative leverage user data to send out Ebola warnings and a partnership between Australian and British police to share DNA data for major crime investigations.

1. Facebook Mines User Data to Send Ebola Warnings

Facebook is using data from its users to send out Ebola warnings. Using its location awareness capabilities, the company determines when a user is located in and around West Africa and sends a message with information about symptoms and how to get help. The messaging initiative, which does not require any personal information to work, may serve as a model for future “social good” projects at the company.

2. Microsoft Launches Platform for Health

Microsoft has launched the Microsoft Band wearable, a cross-platform fitness and activity tracker, and Microsoft Health, a cloud platform for health and fitness data. The wearable integrates a global positioning system (GPS), smartwatch functionality, and a variety of biometric sensors that track information including heart rate and skin temperature. The device comes with an app in which users can access their activity history, including steps, calories burned, and sleep information, along with connections for other apps such as RunKeeper.

3. Software Company Brings Predictive Analytics to HR

Human resources software maker Workday has announced that it will embed recommendation algorithms in its products and other advanced analytics to predict which high-performing employees are most likely to leave a company and suggest possible actions a company might take to encourage the employees to stay. In the company’s expense reporting software, predictive algorithms will be able to anticipate which departments are most likely to exceed their budgets. The company is also working on collecting data from over 1 billion online social media profiles to get a better picture of the way people describe specific jobs, such as calling a registered nurse position an “ER RN” or a “midwife.”

4. Keeping U.S. Park Data Open

The U.S. Forest Service is putting together a large contract for a company to manage its Recreation.gov website, but several organizations that use the agency’s data have cried foul. For example, Hipcamp, a campground search engine that uses open data as the basis for its service, says the contract does not make adequate assurances that the data generated from the project will remain open once it is controlled by a single contractor. Moreover, the current draft of the contract removes a key dataset from public release: things people can reserve at parks, including campsites, events, and tours.

5. Progress Toward a Catalog of Gene Functions

More than ten years after the human genome was decoded, the functions of more than half of all genes remain unclear across all species whose genomes have been sequenced. One team at the University of Cambridge is making the first steps toward building a comprehensive catalogue of gene functions, using a sophisticated imaging technique to track gene expression on three different cell processes at the same time. Using this technique, the researchers were able to link two thirds of the genes in their model species, a kind of yeast, to functional processes for the first time. The scientists have made their data and research available online.

6. EU Commits Millions to Open Data

EU officials announced this week that the European Union has committed €14.4 million ($17.9 million) to open data projects and institutions over the next several years. The projects will be led by the Open Data Institute, Southampton University, the Open University, and Spanish telecom firm Telefonica. The funding will be used to support startups, open data research, and a new training academy for data science. The startup funding, in particular, is the largest ever direct investment into open data startups globally.

7. IoT Incubator to Launch from Smart City

Korean incubator SparkLabs announced this week that it will launch an Internet of Things (IoT) accelerator in the Songdo International Business District in Incheon. The district, one of the first specially designed smart cities, has a technological infrastructure that supports connected devices in public places. SparkLabs hopes to recruit IoT companies to use this infrastructure to rapidly test and launch IoT products. The program is open to companies from anywhere in the world.

8. Using Data to Become a Better Text Messenger

PVLL (pronounced “pull”) is an Android app that lets users track and analyze their text messaging habits. The app was designed with an eye toward young people on the dating scene. The app can create visualizations showing which partner initiates text conversations, who is taking longer to respond, and other information. In the future, the app will attempt to use this information to predict how likely a relationship is to progress.

9. Crowdsourced Crime Mapping in Jamaica

CrimeBot is an app designed to improve Jamaican citizens’ awareness of crimes in their area. The crowdsourced mapping app takes data reported by individuals and overlays it onto a satellite image of the surrounding area, allowing users to pinpoint areas with high crime rates. The app also offers a way to report crime anonymously for users who lack confidence in local authorities or fear for their own safety. The app was awarded the top prize at a recent Jamaican apps competition.

10. Australian and British Police Will Share DNA Data

Australian and British police forces have reached an agreement to share their DNA databases to investigate major crimes such as murder, rape, and terrorism. The deal allows the two countries to bypass Interpol when requesting DNA evidence, expediting a process that could make it easier to tackle time-sensitive cases. Australia is considering making similar deals with U.S. and Canadian police.


Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Diliff

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