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Big government needs big data to protect children

Government’s inability to harness data to support policy decisions means it cannot protect those that new regulations are intended to protect, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

 

A flagrant disregard for facts is an excellent way for a government to embarrass itself. In recent weeks, we’ve seen two examples of absurd new laws proposed or implemented in the name of protecting children, with little evidence to back up the arguments.

The absurdity of the Film and Publications Board (FPB) trying to gain control over all Internet content, ostensibly to help it protect children, is almost as bad as the Department of Home Affairs introducing onerous new travel regulations for foreign tourists, in order to prevent child trafficking.

The latter is particularly offensive, in that it strikes a massive blow against a successful tourism industry, without addressing the scourge.

The travel regulations are based on little more than urban legends, and stem from claims about tens of thousands of women being trafficked as sex slaves for the 2006 and 2010 FIFA World Cup finals. The 2006 event in Germany supposedly saw 40 000 women trafficked across Europe. Similar numbers were bandied about for South Africa in 2010, with some estimates as high as 100 000. Building on the arguments, an NGO at the time issued an estimate of 30 000 child prostitutes in South Africa – numbers quickly discredited as having no basis in evidence.

The truth is, there was very little cross-border trafficking in either country during the tournaments. In Germany, there were only five reported cases. Most trafficking in South Africa happens from within the country. However, the very fact that no official statistics are available tells us about Government’s inability to base policy on facts.

The same applies to the FPB, which seeks sweeping powers in order “to ensure cyber safety of children and that children are protected from disturbing and harmful content access through social media and mobile platforms”. Considering that the proposed regulations are drawing international attention for their draconian provisions, it would be assumed that the Board, or at least the Department of Communications under which it falls, would have conducted rigorous homework on the issue.

For example, how much content posted in YouTube from South Africa can be construed as “disturbing and harmful”? The answer is, so little that it would barely register. But even that answer is merely an assumption. And the FPB is basing control of, among other, all South African YouTube content, on the same kind of assumption.

We have entered an era of Big Data, in which it is not only possible to gather statistical evidence on any topic, but also to analyse the statistics rigorously and extract insights that guide policy, strategy and decision-making. That is the essence of Big Data.

We could begin with Small Data. A study by the Human Sciences Research Council published in the March 2010 edition of the Development Southern Africa journal included interviews with 300 street children, as merely a sample of children living on the streets. Based on its research, it estimated a high likelihood that there were at least 3200 children living on the streets of Gauteng.

Living conditions are just the beginning of the horrors to which these thousands of children are exposed.

Were there a fraction of the energy devoted to protecting them as there is to undermining tourism and online publishing in the name of protecting children, then government’s commitment to this cause could be taken a little more seriously.

But when you don’t believe in acting on data, why would you believe in acting on the evidence that is constantly available before your eyes?

  •  Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube.

This article first appeared in Arthur’s Signpost column in The Sunday Times, Business Times section, on 14 June 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted in the category: Insight, Strategy, Technology

Big Data game gets real

The German football team’s use of big data during the 2014 FIFA World Cup brought the concept into sharp focus, but such “real-time” application is not new, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

 

On the exhibition floor of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February, one of the stand-out displays was a large TV screen on which the tactics of the German football team were being analysed.

Enterprise systems company SAP was demonstrating how an application called Match Insights could gather data before and during a soccer match, and use it to influence the team manager’s tactical decisions while the game was on.

Most saw the demo as a marketing exercise. But when Germany won the World Cup, systematically outplaying opponents with superior tactics, the data game suddenly became very real.

According to SAP, the journey started last year when national team general manager Oliver Bierhoff found that players were most happy communicating with each other via digital platforms. He commissioned SAP to develop an application that could facilitate the exchange of information, including data about opponents.
SAP Match Insights was then developed in collaboration with the German National Team.
“This data can be converted into simulations and graphs that can be viewed on a tablet or smartphone, enabling trainers, coaches and players to identify and assess key situations in each match,” says Manoj Bhoola, a director at SAP Africa. “SAP Match Insights synchronised the data from scouts with the video footage taken from the pitch to make it easy for coaches to identify key moments in the game.”
The impact of these insights on the outcome of the World Cup are not as easy to quantify, but it’s given “big data” one of its biggest showcases yet. And it could well invade news media.
“Big data is an incredible resource for coaches and players to contextualise information and draw well-informed conclusions to optimise training and tactics,” says Simon Carpenter, chief customer officer at SAP Africa. “It’s high time to make this type of information accessible to sports journalism and the fans as well.”

German soccer may have officially discovered big data, but it’s a path that’s already well-trodden among large enterprises.

“We have been doing it all along,” says Desan Naidoo, managing director for Southern Africa of SAS, the global analytics company. “But some of the aspects have changed. If you look at the volume and variety of structured and unstructured data, ranging from social networks to text and video, that has definitely changed. 90% of all data ever created has been created in the last two years.

“This is unbelievable in itself. But now the requirement from clients to have access to this data has moved from running data through models for 18 to 24 hours, to wanting access in minutes or seconds.”

And it’s not enough merely to analyse the data that is formally collected in organisational systems.

“We’ve had to tap into social media data. We’ve had to restructure the way we do analytics to cope with the volumes. We’ve had to look at hardware changes and infrastructure, such as in-memory analysis.”

The latter refers to loading all the relevant data into live memory, so that it can be processed on the fly, providing usable information in seconds. A typical example is a customer going into a bank wanting a home loan; the bank can now run a risk profile and provide an answer while the individual is waiting.

“In the past, if you based that risk profile on all the data sources the bank has, it would have taken hours,” says Naidoo. “Having access in-memory means you can click a button and run a risk profile accessing all that data, instantaneously. On top of that, analytics today can predict how that customer will behave, rather than being merely reactive, as in the past.

“That’s what big data means today.”

• Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee

This article first appeared in Arthur’s Signpost column in The Sunday Times, Business Times section, on 27 July 2014

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Posted in the category: Insight, Strategy, Technology, Trends

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The Big Change is a business strategy blog and newsletter published by Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx, a leading technology research organisation based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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