The Month in Data – February 2021

This month in data – February 2021

Each month we compile the best stories in data. Get up to speed on this week in data without having to search for it.


How can we balance privacy with public good?

Here’s the bottom line: we’ve been able to create COVID vaccines thanks, in part, to the collection of health data. That’s obviously a win. But where’s the balance? The New York Times delves into this and asks some hard questions. Among them: should the USA create an agency dedicated to the protection of consumer data? Singapore and Australia have already made similar moves, so it wouldn’t be crazy. 


“Just as traditional libraries curate and organize their collections, so could a digital library, adding new data sources and cleaning and assembling them for public use. A federal data library could also take the lead in developing and using new tools such as differential privacy, a technique designed to preserve important features of data while protecting individual identities.”


Australian data sharing bill gets a red light

The fight between the Australian government and Facebook isn’t the only digital war being fought down under. The country’s proposed data sharing laws, which would make it easier for government agencies to share information, are too inflexible. That’s according to a Senate committee which also says there are currently “no requirements for sharing only de-identified data in the principles or elsewhere in the bill”.  


“The committee’s view is that significant matters, such as privacy safeguards and the permissible scope for sharing personal information, should be included in primary legislation unless a sound justification for the use of delegated legislation is provided,” it said.


Scientists want COVID genome data

One of the biggest success stories in the past 12 months is the sheer amount of data sharing in the scientific community over COVID. Now scientists want more. Nature reports that researchers are calling on the Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data to make it easier for researchers in low-income countries to share data, if not easier to say. 


“Some researchers told Nature that besides arguments about equity and openness, there is an issue with GISAID’s differential control over how registered users can download its data. Some users must download files in small batches, for instance, but others can get an entire data set in bulk with GISAID approval.”


New York recommends major Facebook changes

The fascinating state-specific approaches to privacy law in the United States are becoming visible again. New York regulators have now issued a major report regarding Facebook privacy, recommending that Facebook take steps to ensure third-party developers are aware of data sharing rules. But not only that – actively take steps to enforce those rules. 


“Lastly, the DFS’s report supports adopting the Governor’s proposal to enact NYDATA, a data privacy law to protect New Yorkers’ data, such as by requiring various disclosures and limitations of large data collection, would enhance New Yorkers’ privacy protection. The report noted that the ‘investigation has shown that the NYDATA law is necessary.'”


Hot new app Clubhouse experiences China security issue

Clubhouse, an audio-only platform for creating discussion rooms, is heating up in Silicon Valley. It gained popularity in China before being banned. But recently, the app was linked to a Chinese firm that provides tech services for the platform. Now, Clubhouse says it’s issuing a security update. First TikTok, now Clubhouse. Is the future of social media a Chinese one?


“As we reported earlier in the week, it’s not clear exactly what earned Clubhouse an official ban in China. There’s probably no single reason. Although the app was never released there, as Alpha Exploration explained in its SIO statement, people in China found workarounds that allowed them to get online.”


How to make external data part of your strategy

In an abundance of caution, many companies opt to keep their data internally-focused. They don’t take anything away, and they don’t add to it. But a new report from MIT says this is a mistake, and here’s why: a 2018 report found that organizations that add third-party data are usually more mature than their competitors. Which means more success. Of course, it all depends on implementation. But the short story: using third-party sources means adding extra context to your decisions. Which is never a bad thing. 


“Buying third-party data has to be seen in a broader context of what the business is trying to achieve with internal data…If you don’t have a solid understanding of all the internal data that you have in your entire company, then buying third-party data probably wouldn’t help you that much. You’d be spending a lot of money, and third-party data doesn’t come cheap.”


That’s our wrap for this month. Thanks for reading – we hope you found it entertaining and informational. We’d love to hear your thoughts on these articles and anything else data related! Email us anytime at!

Until next month,

Team Data Republic

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