This Month in Data – May 2020

This month in data – May 2020

Data is an incredibly powerful weapon in the global fight against COVID-19. We’ve collected the best resources and insights to help businesses take practical steps during this trying time.


Can AI defeat the virus?

Sounds like something out of a science fiction movie. TechCrunch reports on how various countries have used AI-powered tools to help with tracing and detection methods. But it makes a sober point: once we start using AI-powered tools for this type of tracing, it’s very hard to just stop using them. So how do we do so carefully? Just like lifting a lockdown, replacing restrictions on AI will need to be done carefully – and at the right pace.


“We all want sophisticated AI to assist in delivering a medical cure and managing the public health emergency. Arguably, the short-term risks to personal privacy and human rights of AI wane in light of the loss of human lives. But when coronavirus is under control, we’ll want our personal privacy back and our rights reinstated.”


Is COVID-19 data sharing with law enforcement a problem?

Judging by this report, yes, it sounds like it is. Turns out that some of the millions of people who have undergone testing for COVID-19 had their details shared with law enforcement. Not great. The data is purged, but people are pissed. Especially authorities and lawmakers in states like Tennessee – the Refugee Rights Coalition there called the process “disturbing”. 


“The Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition called sharing the medical information “deeply concerning,” warning that doing so may undermine the trust governments have been trying to build with immigrants and communities of color.”

Data in the age of COVID-19

The Lancet recently published an article on data sharing in a pandemic, and its point is pretty clear: if we had more access to pooled types of medical data, we would be able to find faster solutions. Of course, the previous article highlights some of the problems with that approach. Ultimately, the point is this: we don’t have accessible data for researchers, and the medical field fell down on this one. 


“In this interconnected world, we can imagine a unifying multinational COVID-19 electronic health record waiting for global researchers to apply their methodological and domain expertise. No such database exists, and this failing is not rooted in an absence of technology or precedent.”


Privacy can actually help defeat COVID-19

Sounds…weird, doesn’t it? But it’s true. According to WeForum, there are a number of privacy protecting technologies that help with tracing. Basically, here’s the problem: we want people to use contact tracing apps, but it’s hard to get everyone to download them. So privacy protecting tech can bridge the gap. A centralised system with an anonymised layer would help eradicate the disease quicker. 


“Momentum has been growing toward these efforts. The value of PETs for privacy-protected collaborations in medical research has been recognized and sponsored by bodies such as the National Institute of Health (NIH). Still, there’s more work to be done. Global regulatory support will be critical to making these efforts feasible and timely.” 


How to share data responsibly among COVID-19

This article starts with an interesting premise: researchers actually see sharing data as a “moral obligation”. This Nature piece focuses on how to actually share information responsibly. Among them? Curate the data, anonymise personal information, and check your team’s ability to actually use it. This isn’t just good advice during a pandemic – it’s simple stuff you should be across any time.


“Some scientists don’t have the expertise necessary to work with multiple, complex data sets, says Humphreys. Analysing a single study is very different from conducting analyses on pooled data from various sources, she notes, and a data-access request might be rejected if the researchers making it do not demonstrate the required technical abilities.”


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

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Until next month,

Team Data Republic

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