Measuring the Information Society and Big Data

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Government officials and ICT experts came together to discuss the future of ICT measurement and data analysis at the 12th World Telecommunication/ICT Indicators Symposium (WTIS), held in Tbilisi, Georgia, 24 – 26 November 2014 and opened by Prime Minister of Georgia Mr Irakli Garibashvili.
ITU’s flagship statistics report, ‘Measuring the Information Society Report’ was launched during the event. ICT Development Index country rankings were also announced.
Brahima Sanou, Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT) described the opportunities and challenges of the information society in his introduction to the report:
“Over the past year, the world witnessed continued growth in the uptake of ICT and, by end 2014, almost 3 billion people will be using the Internet, up from 2.7 billion at end 2013. While the growth in mobile-cellular subscriptions is slowing as the market reaches saturation levels, mobile broadband remains the fastest growing market segment, with continuous double-digit growth rates in 2014 and an estimated global penetration rate of bandwidth has also grown steeply, at 45 per cent annually between 2001 and 2013, and the developing countries’ share of total international bandwidth increased from around 9 per cent in 2004 to almost 30 per cent in 2013. Overall, almost all of the 166 countries included in the IDI improved their values in the last year.
Despite this encouraging progress, there are important digital divides that need to be addressed: 4.3 billion people are still not online, and 90 per cent of them live in the developing world”
The Measuring the Information Society Report contains a detailed chapter which explains the background and possibilities of big data. The report explores mainstreaming and fully exploiting telecom big data for monitoring and for social and economic development, in particular with regard to the different stakeholders involved in the area of big data from the ICT industry.
Sections within the “The Role of Big Data for ICT Monitoring and for Development” chapter cover:
  • trends and definitions in big data, highlighting the technological developments that have facilitated the emergence of big data, and identifying sources and uses of big data, including use of big data for development and ICT monitoring.
  • types of data that telecommunication companies produce (in particular mobile-cellular operators) and how those data are currently being used to track ICT developments and improve business
  • ways in which telecom big data may be used to complement official ICT statistics and assist in the provision of new evidence for a host of policy domains
  • challenges of leveraging big data for ICT monitoring and broader development, including in terms of standardization and privacy.


Read The role of big data for ICT monitoring and for development (pdf) from the Measuring the Information Society report.


Big data for development at the future of ICT measurement panel

At WTIS, the three days of discussions featured debates on the post-2015 development agenda and future priorities for ICT for development. One panel in particular was focused on “Big Data and the Future of ICT Measurement.” 
The panel on role of big data focused on opportunities in new data sources and the need to work more closely with the private sector to harness them for public good, while acknowledging the digital divide and some of the biases inherent in using data exhaust from ICT use.
Among the panellists was Mr. Ronald Jansen, Chief of Trade Statistics Branch of the United Nations Statistics Division, who described movements towards use of big data for official statistics including through a new Global Working Group which was formed in May 2014 and comprised of 18 National Statistical Offices (NSOs) and 10 international orgs. The group met recently in China for a three day International Conference on Big Data for Official Statistics. Drivers of interest in using big data sources were described including new potential to underpin the Post-2015 goals (Sustainable Development Goals), increasing use of technology and mobile phones and aspirations to harness methods that are becoming increasingly commonplace in private sector data analysis.
Nuria Oliver, Scientific Director and of Telefonica Research talked about the possibility of using mobile phones as human sensors. She explained that big mobile data can be used to map pandemics, urban planning or project movement during natural disasters. Challenges Nuria outlined to broader use include regulatory, technical and privacy challenges.
Mark Graham from the Oxford Internet Institute talked about the uneven distribution of digital information and differences in digital use across the globe, he highlighted some of the inherent biases in using digital information that go beyond simple internet penetration rates.


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