Data Poor in a Data-Driven World

Loraine Lawson
Slide Show

Harnessing the Power of Big Data with Geospatial Mapping

Are concerns about personal data a sign of privilege?

Daniel Castro argues that they are, especially as the Internet of Things (IoT) comes online and data constantly streams from high-tech, high-cost gadgets.

Poor people don’t own Fitbits. Rather inconveniently for data, they also are born, grow up and live in low-tech environments. In our data-driven society, the end effect is that these people disappear from data, writes Castro in his paper, “The Rise of Data Poverty in America.” Castro is the director for the Center of Data Innovation, a data innovation think-tank that published the paper. He’s also a senior analyst at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation — qualifications that show in his thought-provoking, well-researched paper.


Meanwhile, data from the lower class’ wealthier peers is collected constantly and aggregated in ways that give them more benefits. The bulk of Castro’s paper is devoted to showing how this emerging digital disparity will have widespread community and personal ramifications.

 “These advantages may translate into better health care outcomes, increased access to financial services, enhanced educational opportunities, and even more civic participation,” he states. “Conversely, if certain groups are routinely excluded from data sets, their problems may be overlooked and their communities held back in spite of progress elsewhere.”

For communities, government agencies, non-profits and mission-oriented companies, these “data deserts” will make it harder to address real-world problems, Castro writes, including managing health care, the environment and public services.

Companies are always finding new ways to exploit data for financial value, and anyone in business knows that data-driven seems to be the wave of the future. As I shared in a recent post, data is so valuable that new start-ups are betting they can profit from data collected by paying individuals for the privilege of monitoring online activity. These pieces together support the idea that for businesses, governments, and the connected individuals, data is the new oil.

For the data poor, though, data may be the new oxygen, Castro says, causing “failure to thrive” in data-poor communities:

“For example, individuals without official identification can face significant challenges in their daily lives, such as finding jobs, accessing financial services, and traveling on planes. When these access barriers disproportionately affect certain groups, it can leave them marginalized by society.”

Castro demonstrates how that might happen in education, health care and financial services, then offers four specific recommendations for what the U.S. (although I think the suggestions could be applied elsewhere) can do to prevent this data divide.

Of course, the poor have always been at a disadvantaged when it comes to resources. That is the very definition of poverty. But that’s not Castro’s argument. His argument is that data-poor individuals and communities may essentially disappear from the very organizations trying to serve them. If data doesn’t show a true picture of the nation’s demographics, it also falsely skews the results toward the well-to-do.

Everyday, I write about topics that I think are of value to IT and business professionals, particularly those involved with integration and data. I wouldn’t write about it if I didn’t think it added value to your work.

But this goes beyond that. While Castro’s paper shows a major impact on non-profit, mission-oriented or government organizations, it is a must-read for anyone concerned about the broader impact of technology and data on our world.

Like the discussion about data privacy, I think this topic should be elevated to a broader audience.

Castro’s 18-page paper is available as a free download. Check it out and share your thoughts in the discussion below. 

Loraine Lawson is a veteran technology reporter and blogger. She currently writes the Integration blog for IT Business Edge, which covers all aspects of integration technology, including data governance and best practices. She has also covered IT/Business Alignment and IT Security for IT Business Edge. Before becoming a freelance writer, Lawson worked at TechRepublic as a site editor and writer, covering mobile, IT management, IT security and other technology trends. Previously, she was a webmaster at the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and a newspaper journalist. Follow Lawson at Google+ and on Twitter.



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