Using Cell Phone Data for Social Good

May 16, 2012
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data from cellphone companies 150x150 photo (unstructured data data mining big data advanced analytics )When is cell phone data not just cell phone data?

data from cellphone companies 150x150 photo (unstructured data data mining big data advanced analytics )When is cell phone data not just cell phone data? When it’s being mined to solve some of the world’s biggest social problems – that’s when.

Which is exactly what Nathan Eagle is doing.

Eagle, a professor at Harvard’s School of Public Health and the MIT Media Lab, and his team are collecting and analyzing millions of phone records generated each day by mobile phone subscribers around the world. Although the data is typically collected for billing purposes, it can also be used to do a lot of social good, according to the article.

Eagle is using this big data to help development groups make important decisions like finding the best region in Kenya to launch a malaria eradication campaign or enabling healthcare providers to discover abnormal patterns in cholera outbreaks in Rwanda.

But mining such massive amounts of data requires new analytical tools, so Eagle and his colleagues are developing large-scale network analysis and machine learning algorithms aimed at providing deeper insight into human behavior.

By mining the anonymous data from millions of subscribers in both developing and developed markets, Eagle and his team are building huge databases of information. Then using the algorithms, they can extrapolate the movement patterns and behavioral data to help organizations better target their resources.

But that’s not all – they also have to combine the mobile phone data with other enormous data sets including census, weather and health data as well as information gathered by people on the ground.

Eagle’s goal is “to determine how we can use these insights to actively improve the lives of the billions of people who generate this data and the societies in which they live.” For example, public health organizations could detect cholera outbreaks by analyzing the sudden changes in the movement patterns of cell phone users in particular villages or regions in Rwanda, according to the article.

Eagle worked with one public health organization in Kenya to try to eradicate malaria on a particular section of the coast of the Indian Ocean. However, after compiling and analyzing the data from all of Kenya’s mobile carriers, Eagle realized that just isn’t possible because people move around too much, bringing the disease with them from other regions.

The good news is that analyzing this data will still enable organizations to target their resources to fight malaria in the most effective ways possible.

Next Steps: See how Spotfire version 4.5 empowers users to discover actionable insights hidden in big data and unstructured information in our upcoming webcast, “What’s New with Spotfire 4.5,” taking place Thursday, May 31 at 1 p.m. Eastern.

Linda Rosencrance
Spotfire Blogging Team