Date
27 July 2017
Identifying potholes on roads has traditionally been a time-consuming process done by contractors or public works crews who drive around to spot them, the StreetBump app aimed to change that. Photo: City of Boston
Identifying potholes on roads has traditionally been a time-consuming process done by contractors or public works crews who drive around to spot them, the StreetBump app aimed to change that. Photo: City of Boston

The dark side of big data

Big data is meant to bring innovative products and improve lives, but in the real world, sometimes the opposite happens.

A Hong Kong Economic Journal column quotes an example given by a Harvard Business Review study to explain how this is possible.

The City of Boston introduced an app called StreetBump to enhance the condition of neighborhood streets.

As a project of the mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, the app aimed to let people easily report potholes or cracks on the roads and provide real-time data for the government to plan resource allocation and prioritize repair works.

Using an accelerometer and the global positioning system, bumps can be uploaded to a server for analysis.

Research later discovered that since smartphones tend to be less popular among the elderly, the data collected failed to adequately cover bumps that could be a potential hazard to senior citizens.

The end result was that the needs of old people were neglected.

Hidden biases like these could undermine the usefulness of big data.

Hence, while we should make the most out of data technology, we also need to understand its limitations.

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FL

EJ Insight writer

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