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10 Bits: The Data News Hotlist

by Joshua New
Austin City Hall

This week’s list of data news highlights covers June 20-26 , 2015 and includes articles about how a new app for the Apple Watch can enhance personal safety, and how the UK is supporting farmers with open data.

1. Solving LGBT Health Issues with Crowdsourced Data

The University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) will use a smartphone app supported by Apple’s ResearchKit to collect information to build the largest database on the physical, mental, and social issues that affect gay and transgender men and women. The database will support UCSF’s PRIDE study, which aims to provide data to scientists attempting to improve the health of the LGBT community, as many have been hesitant to share this potentially sensitive data with researchers.

2. Forecasting Weather for the Home

Technology company Honeywell and weather company WeatherBug have announced a partnership to combine Honeywell’s Internet-connected thermostats with local weather data. The new thermostats can automatically adjust to changes in the weather. WeatherBug monitors weather data from government agencies, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, as well as a large network of weather sensors. By monitoring localized weather data, the thermostats will be able to save users money on energy bills and reduce strain on the power grid.

3. Keeping People Safe with Personal Data

A new app for the Apple Watch called MrGabriel relies on sensors in the watch to detect sudden changes that could indicate a user is in danger, such as a spike in heartbeat or movement speed. When these sudden changes occur, MrGabriel will attempt to verify the user’s safety. If the user does not respond affirmatively, MrGabriel will automatically notify the user’s designated emergency contacts with the user’s location. MrGabriel can also be trained to learn users’ gaits and heights to avoid sending false alarms that could occur, for example, when users change pace.

4. Opening Drug Data to the World

India’s government has announced that it will open its database on domestic pharmaceutical companies, once completed, to international regulators to help crack down on counterfeit or illegal drugs coming out of India. India is currently developing this database with tracking and barcode data on drug packaging, and it will conduct pilot projects and work with pharmaceutical companies to establish guidelines for sharing this data.

5. Genetic Analysis Moves to the Cloud

Google has partnered with the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, a biomedical science collaborative, to bring the institute’s tools for genetic data analysis to Google’s cloud platform. The partnership is designed to provide researchers around the world with easy access to the institute’s data, which includes the world’s largest collection of genetic data about diseases. Traditionally, researchers have had to physically ship their data on hard drives to others around the world in order to share their research. The institute expects that this partnership, in addition to eliminating a cumbersome process, will encourage greater collaboration in the scientific community.

6. Mining California’s Health Data

Covered California, the state’s health insurance exchange established under the Affordable Care Act, has announced a new data-mining project to asses the quality of healthcare for the 1.4 million people covered in the program. Covered California hopes this analysis will put pressure on Californian insurance companies to improve care delivery and will help hold these companies accountable for any wrongdoing. Insurers will start delivering deidentified health data to the state for analysis beginning in the fall.

7. Opening Election Finance Data

The city council of Austin, Texas has approved plans to move forward with publishing open data on how the city’s political candidates and committees finance their election campaigns. Austin’s city manager will develop rules requiring campaign finance reports to be submitted in electronic formats to a downloadable and searchable public database. These reports are currently submitted in unstructured paper formats or as PDF documents and posted online, which makes the data difficult to analyze. The city council will vote to accept these rules as soon as August.

8. Supporting Farmers with Open Data

The United Kingdom’s Department of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra) has announced it will make large portions of its data openly available to support rural economic development, particularly in the agriculture sector. Defra is one of the UK government’s largest data holders but has yet to make much of its data public. Defra hopes the datasets, which range from soil and air quality studies to wildlife surveys, will help farmers increase yields and make better use of farming technologies.

9. Solving Education Woes with Data

North Carolina’s public university system has developed a suite of data visualization dashboards with analytics company SAS to improve how policymakers and administrators assess educational outcomes.The dashboards pull data from state educational agencies such as school enrollment, teacher productivity, and time-to-degree completion, and package it into easy-to-understand formats. Officials hope these dashboards, which will be publicly available, will encourage the public to help improve education systems, hold university deans accountable for the performance of their institutions, and better identify underrepresented students and schools.

10. Senators Want a Deep Dive on the Internet of Things

Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) have requested the Government Accountability Office study how the Internet of Things could affect the federal government and the potential policy implications of the technology. In their request, the senators expressed interest in the strategies agencies could adopt to enable the use of the Internet of Things. This bipartisan group of senators previously authored a Senate resolution calling for a national strategy on the Internet of Things, which passed unanimously in March 2015.

Image: flickr user That Other Paper

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