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Ebola: A Big Data Disaster

Sean McDonald, founder of FronlineSMS, released the study “Ebola: A Big Data Disaster," which explores the use of Big Data in humanitarian crises

Released this month, the study “Ebola: A Big Data Disaster,” written by Sean McDonald with the support of the Open Society Foundation, Ford Foundation, and Media Democracy Fund, leaves no stone unturned as it explores the use of Big Data in the form of Call Detail Record (CDR) data in humanitarian crises.

This study raises questions concerning the risks of using CDRs and Big Data in development and humanitarian aid. Relative to any organization using data, the study also explores issues surrounding the use, sharing, and access to personal data in regards to the legal significance of data use without consent.

As Elonnai Hickok, Policy Director of the Centre for Internet and Society, explains, “The paper highlights the absence of a dialogue around the significant legal risks posed by the collection, use, and international transfer of personally identifiable data and humanitarian information, and the grey areas around assumptions of public good. The paper calls for a critical discussion around the experimental nature of data modelling in emergency response due to mismanagement of information has been largely emphasized to protect the contours of human rights.”

Recently, the global scientific community released a statement expressing their commitment to sharing data and results relevant to the Zika virus and any future public health emergencies. In their statement, the participating groups expressed, “the arguments for sharing data, and the consequences of not doing so, have been thrown into stark relief by the Ebola and Zika outbreaks. In the context of a public health emergency of international concern, there is an imperative on all parties to make any information available that might have value in combatting the crisis.”

Data users are seeing a growing discussion surrounding data use, consent, and privacy issues involving data sharing. But it is difficult to draw a hard line between right and wrong concerning data sharing when it involves a crisis like the Ebola or Zika outbreaks. Hopefully the findings of McDonald’s report will help shape and influence those that use data to engage in necessary discussions as we begin to see an increase in the use of data in humanitarian and development efforts.

Read The Center For Internet & Society article here.