This week in data – 6th September

Australia’s push towards a data-driven future continues. Westpac has set up a new accelerator that will help startups get access to anonymised data sets – with the goal to eventually use that data as a foundation for new business models.

The move just comes comes several weeks after the Productivity Commission released a report which argued Australia needs to invest more in information-based business models and new methods of data sharing to unlock the potential of a data-fuelled economy.

The new venture, FUELD, will give start-up access to the Data Republic platform with the aim of analysing a range of data including banking information.

Westpac even says some of the start-ups in the accelerator will be developed to create new real-time macroeconomic indicators for the Australian economy – which could in theory surpass in relevance those provided by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Eight start-ups will join the venture. Data Republic co-founder Danny Gilligan – who will mentor the start-ups – says the accelerator bypasses the problems of other ventures by giving access to data straight away. Usually, those requests are denied before start-ups have any funding.

Data Republic co-founder and CEO Paul McCarney told the Australian Financial Review that despite seeing data as an asset, businesses are unsure how to create value from it. This accelerator changes that.

“Westpac is taking a progressive view about how they think about data in general and their data particular, as an asset class rather than something sitting in a database,” he said.

In other news:

Instagram’s under attack. Up to six million accounts on the platform were reportedly leaked via an exploit last week – and phone numbers and emails were exposed. The hack came to light after singer the accounts of some high-profile users were targeted, including Emma Watson, Emilia Clarke and Harry Styles. But as Business Insider reports, six million accounts were included. Instagram has said no passwords or any other information was affected.

But this isn’t the first time a hack has targeted high-profile users and celebrities – in 2014 a widespread attack targeted celebrities’ private iCloud accounts resulting in hundreds of stolen photos being leaked onto the internet. This recent attack shows high-profile users are still at risk.

Meanwhile, border tensions in India have been the substance of conflict for years. But new data initiatives are helping the country predict when incursions by armed militants can occur – and even when riots might begin. Data analytics companies in India are now gathering terabytes of information on riots, border movements and any activity that used to be recorded manually in soldiers’ logbooks. Now, that information is digitised, and it’s being mined on a massive scale.

Using that predictive data can reap rewards. For instance, Indian military officials now have the ability to plan resources and personnel for riots, and incursions by militants across the border.

“For example, when an agitation happens anywhere in the country, there are multiple factors like social media posts, hashtags, news articles or posts by religious group. Based on these correlation metrics, we merge all the data with the intelligence data from police agencies,” says Tarun Wig, founder of Delhi-based analytics group Innefu Labs. “Then our machine language algorithm and data-mining techniques help predict a protest or agitation.”

Such massive analytics usage on a widespread scale can serve as a prototype for other governments and militaries to better prepare their responses – but will surely fuel the ongoing debate over surveillance and privacy.

Worth a read:

The Australian Department of Human Services has been able to recover $25 million in fraudulent welfare payments using an open source analytics platform. The effort was part of a four-year data matching project with AUSTRAC, the national anti-money laundering agency.

Until next week.

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