Opportunities and challenges of using social media big data to assess mental health consequences of the COVID-19 crisis and future major events

Paper by Martin Tušl et al : “The present commentary discusses how social media big data could be used in mental health research to assess the impact of major global crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic. We first provide a brief overview of the COVID-19 situation and the challenges associated with the assessment of its global impact on mental health using conventional methods. We then propose social media big data as a possible unconventional data source, provide illustrative examples of previous studies, and discuss the advantages and challenges associated with their use for mental health research. We conclude that social media big data represent a valuable resource for mental health research, however, several methodological limitations and ethical concerns need to be addressed to ensure safe use…(More)”.

Expert Group to Eurostat releases its report on the re-use of privately-held data for Official Statistics

Blog by Stefaan Verhulst: “…To inform its efforts, Eurostat set up an expert group in 2021 on ‘Facilitating the use of new data sources for official statistics’ to reflect on opportunities offered by the data revolution to enhance the reuse of private sector data for official statistics”.

Data reuse is a particularly important area for exploration, both because of the potential it offers and because it is not sufficiently covered by current policies. Data reuse occurs when data collected for one purpose is shared and reused for another, often with resulting social benefit. Currently, this process is limited by a fragmented or outdated policy and regulatory framework, and often quite legitimate concerns over ethical challenges represented by sharing (e.g., threats to individual privacy).

Nonetheless, despite such hurdles, a wide variety of evidence supports the idea that responsible data reuse can strengthen and supplement official statistics, and potentially lead to lasting and positive social impact.

Having reviewed and deliberated about these issues over several months, the expert group issued its report this week entitled “Empowering society by reusing privately held data for official statistics”. It seeks to develop recommendations and a framework for sustainable data reuse in the production of official statistics. It highlights regulatory gaps, fragmentation of practices, and a lack of clarity regarding businesses’ rights and obligations, and it draws attention to the ways in which current efforts to reuse data have often led to ad-hoc, one-off projects rather than systematic transformation.

The report considers a wide variety of evidence, including historical, policy, and academic research, as well as the theoretical literature… (More)”.

Read the Eurostat report at: https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/cros/content/read-final-report_en

How football shirts chart the rise and fall of tech giants

Article by Ravi Hiranand and Leo Schwartz: “It’s the ultimate status symbol, a level of exposure achieved by few companies — but one available to any company that’s willing and able to pay a hefty price. It’s an honor that costs millions of dollars, and in return, your company’s logo is on the TV screens of millions of people every week.

Sponsoring a football club — proper football, that is — is more than just a business transaction. It’s about using the world’s most watched sport to promote your brand. Getting your company’s logo on the shirt of a team like Liverpool or Real Madrid means tying your brand to a global icon. And for decades, it’s been a route taken by emerging tech companies, flush with cash to burn and a name to earn.

But these sponsorships actually reveal something about the tech industry as a whole: when you trace the history of these commercial deals across the decades, patterns emerge. Rather than individual companies, entire sectors of the industry — from cars to consumer tech to gambling websites — seem to jump into the sport at once, signaling their rise to, or the desire to, dominate global markets where football is also part of everyday life. It’s no coincidence, for example, that mobile phone companies turned to sponsoring football clubs during the beginning of the new millenium: with handsets becoming increasingly common and 3G just around the corner, companies like Samsung and Vodafone wasted no time in paying record amounts to some of the most successful clubs in England.

Rest of World took a look at some of the more memorable shirt sponsorship deals in football — from Sony’s affiliation with Italy’s champions to Rakuten’s deal with a Spanish giant — and what they say about the rise and fall of the tech sectors those companies represented…(More)”.

Narrowing the data gap: World Bank and Microsoft commit to unlocking better development outcomes for persons with disabilities

Blog by Charlotte Vuyiswa McClain-Nhlapo, and Jenny Lay-Flurrie: “Across the world, persons with disabilities remain invisible in the global development agenda. One key reason is because of variances in the availability and use of disability-disaggregated data across organizations and borders.  

While it is estimated that one billion people, or 15 percent of the world’s population, have a disability – more data is needed to understand the true scale of the living conditions and development outcomes for persons with disabilities, and to get clarity on the degree to which persons with disabilities continue to be underserved.  

This reality is a part of what the World Bank calls the disability divide – the gap in societal inclusion for persons with disabilities in all stages of development programs, including education, employment and digital inclusion. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this risk and exposed some of the existing inequalities faced on a regular basis. 

Many governments around the world use census data to understand a country’s socioeconomic situation and to allocate resources or consider policy to address the needs of its citizens. While every country is on their own journey to leverage data to inform policy and development outcomes, there is an opportunity to bring data on disability together for the global public good, so that groups can more accurately prioritize disability inclusion within global efforts.  

In response to this challenge, the World Bank and Microsoft, in collaboration with the Disability Data Initiative at Fordham University, are partnering to expand both access to and the use of demographics and statistics data to ensure representation of disability, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. The goal of this effort is to develop a public facing, online “disability data hub” to offer information on persons with disabilities across populations, geographies and development indicators.  

Principles for the development of the hub include:  

  • Engaging with the disability community to inform the creation of the hub and its offerings. 
  • Aligning with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which require countries to disaggregate data by disability by 2030. 
  • Taking a holistic approach to data collection on disabilities, including collating and aggregating multiple data sources, such as national household surveys and censuses. 
  • Providing a user-friendly and accessible interface for a wide range of users. 
  • Offering data analysis and accessible visualization tools. 
  • Serving as a knowledge repository by publishing trends and country profiles, offering trainings and capacity building materials and linking to relevant partner resources on disability data disaggregation…(More)”.

Unleashing the power of big data to guide precision medicine in China

Article by Yvaine Ye in Nature: “Precision medicine in China was given a boost in 2016 when the government included the field in its 13th five-year economic plan. The policy blueprint, which defined the country’s spending priorities until 2020, pledged to “spur innovation and industrial application” in precision medicine alongside other areas such as smart vehicles and new materials.

Precision medicine is part of the Healthy China 2030 plan, also launched in 2016. The idea is to use the approach to tackle some major health-care challenges the country faces, such as rising cancer rates and issues related to an ageing population. Current projections suggest that, by 2040, 28% of China’s population will be over 60 years old.

Following the announcement of the five-year plan, China’s Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) launched a precision-medicine project as part of its National Key Research and Development Program. MOST has invested about 1.3 billion yuan (US$200.4 million) in more than 100 projects from 2016 to 2018. These range from finding new drug targets for chronic diseases such as diabetes to developing better sequencing technologies and building a dozen large population cohorts comprising hundreds of thousands of people from across China.

China’s population of 1.4 billion people means the country has great potential for using big data to study health issues, says Zhengming Chen, an epidemiologist and chronic-disease researcher at the University of Oxford, UK. “The advantage is especially prominent in the research of rare diseases, where you might not be able to have a data set in smaller countries like the United Kingdom, where only a handful of cases exist,” says Chen, who leads the China Kadoorie Biobank, a chronic-disease initiative that launched in 2004. It recruited more than 510,000 adults from 10 regions across China in its first 4 years, collecting data through questionnaires and by recording physical measurements and storing participants’ blood samples for future study. So far, the team has investigated whether some disease-related lifestyle factors that have been identified in the West apply to the Chinese population. They have just begun to dig into participants’ genetic data, says Chen.

Another big-data precision-medicine project launched in 2021, after Huijun Yuan, a physician who has been researching hereditary hearing loss for more than two decades, founded the Institute of Rare Diseases at West China Hospital in Chengdu, Sichuan province, in 2020. By 2025, the institute plans to set up a database of 100,000 people from China who have rare conditions, including spinal muscular atrophy and albinism. It will contain basic health information and data relating to biological samples, such as blood for gene sequencing. Rare diseases are hard to diagnose, because their incidences are low. But the development of technologies such as genetic testing and artificial intelligence driven by big data is providing a fresh approach to diagnosing these rare conditions, and could pave the way for therapies…(More)”.

How Covid Tracking Apps Are Pivoting for Commercial Profit

Article by Matt Reynolds and Morgan Meaker: “…At its peak, 2.4 million people tracked their symptoms using the Covid Symptom Tracker. It was one of three surveillance studies the UK government used to track and respond to new outbreaks. Data from the tracker led to the UK government adding loss of smell and taste to the official list of Covid-19 symptoms. Between August 2020 and March 2022, the app was funded with £5.1 million ($6.2 million) from the Department of Health and Social Care.

But in early May 2022, Zoe announced in an email to users that its Covid tracking app would no longer be just a place for people to report their Covid symptoms. The Covid Symptom Tracker was becoming the Zoe Health Study, which asks people to take 10 seconds a day to log their mental and physical health beyond Covid. People who agree to take part in this wider study are asked to establish their baseline health—reporting everything from hair loss to mouth ulcers—as well as providing daily health updates. The company says this data will be used to “fight the most important health issues of our time,” but that it might also be used to develop commercial health, nutrition, and lifestyle products. (Zoe also sells nutrition tests and subscriptions to a personalized nutrition platform.)

Zoe isn’t the only Covid app developer pivoting away from the pandemic. In Berlin, a contact-tracing app called Luca is reinventing itself as a payment system, while in northern Italy an app set up to track coronavirus cases now warns citizens about natural disasters. With the most urgent phase of the pandemic now over, developers are looking for ways to squeeze more value out of the users who have downloaded their apps. The great Covid-19 data pivot is well and truly underway…(More)”.

How to get to the core of democracy

Blog by Toralf Stark, Norma Osterberg-Kaufmann and Christoph Mohamad-Klotzbach: “…Many criticisms of conceptions of democracy are directed more at the institutional design than at its normative underpinnings. These include such things as the concept of representativeness. We propose focussing more on the normative foundations assessed by the different institutional frameworks than discussing the institutional frameworks themselves. We develop a new concept, which we call the ‘core principle of democracy’. By doing so, we address the conceptual and methodological puzzles theoretically and empirically. Thus, we embrace a paradigm shift.

Collecting data is ultimately meaningless if we do not find ways to assess, summarise and theorise it. Kei Nishiyama argued we must ‘shift our attention away from the concept of democracy and towards concepts of democracy’. By the term concept we, in line with Nishiyama, are following Rawls. Rawls claimed that ‘the concept of democracy refers to a single, common principle that transcends differences and on which everyone agrees’. In contrast with this, ‘ideas of democracy (…) refer to different, sometimes contested ideas based on a common concept’. This is what Laurence Whitehead calls the ‘timeless essence of democracy’….

Democracy is a latent construct and, by nature, not directly observable. Nevertheless, we are searching for indicators and empirically observable characteristics we can assign to democratic conceptions. However, by focusing only on specific patterns of institutions, only sometimes derived from theoretical considerations, we block our view of its multiple meanings. Thus, we’ve no choice but to search behind the scenes for the underlying ‘core’ principle the institutions serve.

The singular core principle that all concepts of democracy seek to realise is political self-efficacy…(More)”.

Political self-efficacy
Source: authors’ own compilation

The digitalisation of social protection before and since the onset of Covid-19: opportunities, challenges and lessons

Paper by the Overseas Development Institute: “…discusses the main opportunities and challenges associated with digital social protection, drawing on trends pre-Covid and since the onset of the pandemic. It offers eight lessons to help social protection actors capitalise on technology’s potential in a risk-sensitive manner.

  • The response to Covid-19 accelerated the trend of increasing digitalisation of social protection delivery.
  • Studies from before and during the pandemic suggest that well-used technology holds potential to enhance provision for some service users, and played a notable role in rapid social protection expansion during Covid-19. It may also help reduce leakage or inclusion errors, lower costs and support improvements in programme design.
  • However, unless designed and implemented with careful mitigating measures, digitalisation may in some cases do more harm than good. Key concerns relate to potential risks and challenges of exclusion, protection and privacy violations, ‘technosolutionism’ and obscured transparency and accountability.
  • Ultimately, technology is a tool, and its outcomes depend on the needs it is expected to meet, the goals it is deployed to pursue, and the specific ways in which it is designed and implemented…(More)”.

AI Can Predict Potential Nutrient Deficiencies from Space

Article by Rachel Berkowitz: “Micronutrient deficiencies afflict more than two billion people worldwide, including 340 million children. This lack of vitamins and minerals can have serious health consequences. But diagnosing deficiencies early enough for effective treatment requires expensive, time-consuming blood draws and laboratory tests.

New research provides a more efficient approach. Computer scientist Elizabeth Bondi and her colleagues at Harvard University used publicly available satellite data and artificial intelligence to reliably pinpoint geographical areas where populations are at high risk of micronutrient deficiencies. This analysis could potentially pave the way for early public health interventions.

Existing AI systems can use satellite data to predict localized food security issues, but they typically rely on directly observable features. For example, agricultural productivity can be estimated from views of vegetation. Micronutrient availability is harder to calculate. After seeing research showing that areas near forests tend to have better dietary diversity, Bondi and her colleagues were inspired to identify lesser-known markers for potential malnourishment. Their work shows that combining data such as vegetation cover, weather and water presence can suggest where populations will lack iron, vitamin B12 or vitamin A.

The team examined raw satellite measurements and consulted with local public health officials, then used AI to sift through the data and pinpoint key features. For instance, a food market, inferred based on roads and buildings visible, was vital for predicting a community’s risk level. The researchers then linked these features to specific nutrients lacking in four regions’ populations across Madagascar. They used real-world biomarker data (blood samples tested in labs) to train and test their AI program….(More)”.

10 learnings from considering AI Ethics through global perspectives

Blog by Sampriti Saxena and Stefaan G. Verhulst: “Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies have the potential to solve the world’s biggest challenges. However, they also come with certain risks to individuals and groups. As these technologies become more prevalent around the world, we need to consider the ethical ramifications of AI use to identify and rectify potential harms. Equally, we need to consider the various associated issues from a global perspective, not assuming that a single approach will satisfy different cultural and societal expectations.

In February 2021, The Governance Lab (The GovLab), the NYU Tandon School of Engineering, the Global AI Ethics Consortium (GAIEC), the Center for Responsible AI @ NYU (R/AI), and the Technical University of Munich’s (TUM) Institute for Ethics in Artificial Intelligence (IEAI) launched AI Ethics: Global Perspectives. …A year and a half later, the course has grown to 38 modules, contributed by 40 faculty members representing over 20 countries. Our conversations with faculty members and our experiences with the course modules have yielded a wealth of knowledge about AI ethics. In keeping with the values of openness and transparency that underlie the course, we summarized these insights into ten learnings to share with a broader audience. In what follows, we outline our key lessons from experts around the world.

Our Ten Learnings:

  1. Broaden the Conversation
  2. The Public as a Stakeholder
  3. Centering Diversity and Inclusion in Ethics
  4. Building Effective Systems of Accountability
  5. Establishing Trust
  6. Ask the Right Questions
  7. The Role of Independent Research
  8. Humans at the Center
  9. Our Shared Responsibility
  10. The Challenge and Potential for a Global Framework…(More)”.