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How can big data work for social good?

Jeanine Vos, Head of SDG Accelerator, GSMA, tells us more about the industry body's Big Data for Social Good Initiative

You launched Big Data for Social Good (BD4SG) in 2017. Can you tell us how it has progressed and what the success stories have been since then?

Since 2017, the BD4SG initiative has successfully completed five projects in the areas of infectious disease, disaster preparedness and climate change in India, Japan, Turkey, Brazil and Colombia.

In 2018, our advisory panel expanded to 12 UN agencies and partners with the addition of both UNICEF and the World Bank. Our case studies and partnerships have enabled us to develop common, sustainable, and scalable approaches to delivering mobile data-driven solutions.

This has been documented through our Operator Blueprint and recently launched BD4SG Digital toolkit, which captures the technical processes, ecosystem environment, business model and privacy considerations to develop a successful solution.

Data and mobile devices are two of the modern world's most influential – and lucrative – commodities. Why is it so important to harness them as a force for social good?

One of the goals of the GSMA is to maximize the positive impact of mobile operators and their partners on people and the planet. Mobile big data solutions are a key vehicle for delivering this positive impact and ultimately create a sustainable future for everyone, especially the most vulnerable in our society.

What does the ideal scenario for big data and mobile being used for social good look like?

An ideal BD4SG deployment has sustainability at its core. This means that the resources, skills and investment required for a solution are embedded into the development of a solution, ensuring that its impact on citizens is not limited to one-off, short-term cases but meet future, long-term needs.

What's the best example of mobile data being used to help people that you've seen? And what's the best example of collaboration between mobile operators and NGOs?

A good example is in Japan, where collaboration was not limited to the mobile operator (KDDI) and the government, but also included a cross industry collaboration with Toyota and OYA. This collaboration was able to develop an AI-powered support system that integrates information to help optimize national and local government response, providing powerful insights to support communities when hazards occur. This initiative will be built up and phased into 1,700 local city, town and village communities in 2019.

With data comes great responsibility. What is being done to ensure that data is secure, protected and used in the right way? How are operators combating data breaches and ensuring that personal data is safeguarded?

Being a custodian of this data is a responsibility the mobile industry takes very seriously. The GSMA has also recently launched the Digital Declaration initiative, a guiding set of principles that demonstrate the commitment of our operators and partners to ethical issues around trust, security and inclusivity to foster sustainable innovation.

The GSMA has also issued a set of privacy and ethical considerations for operators and partners in the context of our BD4SG initiative addressing subjects such as personal data, accountability, and security. These considerations are rooted in our broader work on mobile privacy at the GSMA, including the GSMA Mobile Privacy Principles.

Trust is of huge importance to any organization – not least in a data driven world. How can BD4SG not only uphold but improve an organization's ability to retain the trust of its customers and wider society?

Throughout our BD4SG initiative, we've emphasized responsible and secure use of data, including through the requirements in our Code of Conduct, as well as our use of anonymized and aggregated data to protect privacy. We've also developed robust technical guidelines to deliver insights designed to positively impact people in countries around the world. Improving lives is at the forefront of everything we do in the BD4SG initiative, and we hope the high standards guiding our work will foster the trust of consumers and society.

Tech companies have enormous and increasing power to make a big difference in society, and we have seen many negative examples of tech/data being used in the wrong way over recent years. How do you see the moral, ethical and corporate social responsibilities of the world's biggest handlers of data?

In addition to considering legal requirements, big data analytics services should also consider the overall fairness and the ethical dimension of what they, or the third parties accessing the insights, are proposing to do.

Organizations can incorporate ethical decision-making models into their business processes to help build better services and foster an environment of trust.

With more data being produced by more devices, how far can BD4SG impact the world?

Despite being a new and emerging field of work, the capabilities of BD4SG have already shown us how powerful it can be. However, this could just be the tip of the iceberg. As the mobile industry's experience and knowledge of BD4SG grows, we believe that even greater impact will be realized. 

Related content: Doteveryone CEO Rachel Coldicutt  on the state of  trust in technology

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