The Data Divide

A report from the Center for Data Innovation warns of a new broadband gap they call the data divide, which is when some parts of society are not sharing in the big societal advantages that come from using and understanding the huge amounts of data that are being generated today.

The report includes examples of the data divide that make the concept easier to understand.

  • Patients who aren’t part of the system that is creating lifetime medical records won’t get the same quality of healthcare as people who have a fully documented medical history. People who don’t use medical monitoring devices won’t be informed early of health problems. People who aren’t included in genetic databases won’t be alerted to lifesaving techniques specific to their genome.
  • People that don’t participate heavily in the transactions that are used to calculate a credit score are often discriminated against even though they may be creditworthy.
  • Poor and rural school districts often don’t collect the same kind of data on students and student achievement, putting those students at a disadvantage for higher education opportunities.

These are just a few of the many examples that are going to become apparent as we move into a world that is data-centric. The report warns that the data gap doesn’t just affect individuals but also whole communities that are not as connected. The report points out the obvious – that access to the best data tends to be a luxury item available to wealthier individuals and communities.

We are now awash in data. Practically everything we do in public is recorded. The report warns that data can be put to good use to benefit society or used alternatively for the detriment of individuals and society.

Having access to mountains of data is a relatively new phenomenon that has been created by the combination of large data centers, the nascent AI industry, quantum computing, and companies that specialize in mining data. The report says that we are just entering a new world where data will play an important role in everybody’s life and that now is the time to start thinking, as a country and a society, about how we are going to control and use the mountains of data.

The report suggests that we develop national standards and goals for public data gathering so that decision-makers have the right data at their fingertips. Some of the ideas fostered by the report include:

  • Improve the quality of government-generated data.
  • Create standards to enhance the quality and usability of non-government data.
  • Support standard ways to incorporate crowd-sourced data and private-sourced data into government datasets.
  • Direct government agencies to develop strategies to make sure that data is available to all communities.

The report warns that the data gap will become severe unless we make sure that accurate data is available to everybody. Without a strategy and data policies, we’re on a path where most data will be used to market selectively to people or to lobby people with political ideas based upon a personal profile. Those uses of data seem inevitable, but we ought to be guaranteeing the upsides of using the data gathered about us rather than the downsides.

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t understand enough about large datasets to know what is floating around in the world. But I know that both the government and private companies are gathering huge amounts of data about us, and it makes sense to create rules that make it hard to misuse the data and that make useful data available to everybody.

Leave a Reply