Accounting of information flows: Data balance sheet

Systematic accounting of data and information flows is about to be acknowledged as an integral part of regular internal and public reporting by organisations.  Alongside finances and corporate social responsibility, the topic of data has now found its way to annual reports. Forerunners publish even dedicated accounting reports for data and information flows, something which can be recommended in data-driven sectors.

For example, Finnish Transport Safety Agency Trafi recently published their second data balance sheet (tietotilinpäätös), an annual report describing their data strategy, related architectures and inventory of data and information flows. This supports Trafi in their aim to be a forerunner in collecting data but also opening it up for maximum use for societal benefit. Through digital public sector services and open data policy, Trafi among others encourages data flows between authorities, between authorities and (typically data-producing) users and towards companies to boost business. Examples of Trafi’s data include statistics and registers on vehicles, licences, permits and accidents. Another pioneer in data accounting is the Finnish Population Register Centre, having compiled data balance sheets since 2010, although due to the nature of the registers only a summary of the report is available for the public.

Why is this important?

Platform economy is all about unleashing the cornucopia of opportunities linked to data. Users and producers as well as the functioning of the platform create, process, store and exchange data, and these data and information flows form the key type of interaction in platform economy. Furthermore, many of the emerging technology areas linked to platforms, such as artificial intelligence, blockchain or automation, are extremely data-intensive.

Management of data has therefore become an increasingly critical and strategic part of activities of companies, public sector authorities and even individuals. On the one hand, data is an asset of real value, but on the other hand, this value can only come to fruition and grow through sharing and opening. This challenges existing business logics in many sectors, where data previously had little or no role or where data flows and information systems used to be strictly in-house matters.

Arguments favouring the introduction of data accounting to regular managerial and strategy work of organisations include both discovering opportunities but also addressing threats and uncertainties. Systematic data accounting helps internal monitoring and improvement, and an open approach helps to expand collaboration and partnerships with others (users, customers, companies and authorities). Accounting should also include responses and preparedness for safety and security issues as well as strategies related to data ownership, surveillance and fulfilment of possible regulatory requirements.

Things to keep an eye on

A significant change factor in the topic of data management in Europe is the data protection regulation (EU) 2016/679 that is to be applied in all European Union Member States in May 2018. This regulation addresses the protection of natural persons with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data.

European Data Protection Supervisor lays out a definition of accountability in the meaning that organisations need to “put in place appropriate technical and organisational measures and be able to demonstrate what they did and its effectiveness when requested”. Suchlike measures include “adequate documentation on what personal data are processed, how, to what purpose, how long;  documented processes and procedures aiming at tackling data protection issues at an early state when building information systems or responding to a data breach; the presence of a Data Protection Officer that be integrated in the organisation planning and operations etc.”

Another great resource on the topic is the recent publication by the Finnish Government´s analysis, assessment and research activities on use and impacts of open data.  The report describes the openness of major data resources maintained by the public administration and on means to assess the economic impacts of open data in Finland. An analysis of the relationship between firms’ use of open data and their innovation production and growth is also provided. To conclude, the report proposes specific recommendations how to enhance the impact of open data in our society, including the use of tools such as data balance sheets.

The European Digital single market strategy and especially the subtopic of online platforms fits well into the above-mentioned discussion. Issues addressed under these activities include for example concerns about how online platforms collect and make use of users’ data, the fairness in business-to-business relations between online platforms and their suppliers, consumer protection and the role of online platforms in tackling illegal content online.

Guidance on how to prepare a data balance sheet is provided by for example the Finnish Data Protection Ombudsman in English and Finnish.

Selected articles and websites

General Data Protection Regulation (EU) 2016/679 – EUR-Lex
European Data Protection Supervisor: Accountability
European Commission: Digital single market – Online platforms
Valtioneuvoston kanslia: Avoimen datan hyödyntäminen ja vaikuttavuus
Liikenteen turvallisuusvirasto Trafi: Tietotilinpäätös 2016
Väestörekisterikeskus: Tietotilinpäätös
Data Protection Ombudsman: Prepare a data balance sheet
TechRepublic: Data’s new home: Your company’s balance sheet

Heidi Auvinen

Research Scientist VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd
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Persuasive computing

In the aftermath of the US election, the power of social media filter bubbles and echo chambers has again evoked discussion and concern. How much can algorithms influence our behaviour?

Why is this important?

Data is a key part of the functioning of any platform, and analysis and filtering of data streams allows, for example, tailoring of the platform’s offering based on user data. This is evident in content platforms such as Facebook or Youtube, which learn from your behaviour and customise the user view and suggested contents accordingly. This filtering for personalised experience is valuable and helps the user navigate in their areas of interests, but there are also various drawbacks.  Filtering and especially its invisibility can cause ‘filter bubbles’, where the user experience is threatened to limit to information that reinforces existing beliefs. This leads to polarization. What is even more troubling is that the algorithms can be tweaked to manipulate the feelings of users, according to a 2014 study done by Facebook without the users knowing.

Things to keep an eye on

The debate is now on-going as to how much algorithms can affect our actions. Some claim that the analysis and manipulation of social media feeds was instrumental in the US elections, while some say that the claims are overrated and the hype mostly benefits the analytics companies. In any case, the filtering of data is not inconsequential and there are increasing calls for more transparency to the filtering algorithms as well as for the ownership of the behavioural data collected through platforms. In part this issue becomes more and more topical with the advances in artificial intelligence, which makes data analysis more sophisticated and accessible. There are also interesting experiments – often with artistic goals – in confusing the algorithms in order to make the data they collect unusable by the platform owner.

Selected articles and websites

Will Democracy Survive Big Data and Artificial Intelligence?
The Rise of the Weaponized AI Propaganda Machine
The Truth About The Trump Data Team That People Are Freaking Out About
Robert Mercer: the big data billionaire waging war on mainstream media
How to hide your true feelings from Facebook
Persuading Algorithms with an AI Nudge

Mikko Dufva

Research Scientist VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd
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IBM Watson

Why is this important?

The IBM Watson ecosystem enables developers to include artificial intelligence to their services. Examples range from personalised health care advice to accelerated R&D to automated customer support. A key point to keep in mind is that the whole ecosystem is learning. As the ecosystem grows and more use cases are added, the quality and the range of things IBM Watson can do increases.

Things to keep an eye on

As the number of sensors and connected devices grows, the amount and ubiquity of data increases and this benefits machine learning services such as IBM Watson. Therefore it is useful to think how much data is gathered and where it is gathered. Another thing to consider is the potential public backlash from seeing artificial intelligence as a creepy ”big brother”. In addition, the question of who owns the data is crucial.

Selected articles and websites

IBM Watson ecosystem
R&D support: Inno360
Condé Nast Has Started Using IBM’s Watson to Find Influencers for Brands
Next Target for IBM’s Watson? Third-Grade Math

Mikko Dufva

Research Scientist VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd
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Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence has made tremendous progress over the last decades, moving from beating humans at games towards a wide range of fields. In 1999, IBM’s big blue defeated the world best Jeopardy champions, and 17 years later Google bested the world’s champion “go” player. Recently, Big Blue was employed to develop an antiviral to attack the Zika virus with great success. The new “macromolecule” was effective against not only Zika but multiple other viruses as well. LTP news estimates that “AI is going to change every endeavor of human activity from Medicine to Government to Manufacturing, Law, Finance and beyond.  By 2025, AI Will Have a 5-Trillion-Dollar Direct Impact on the Workforce“.

Why is this important?

  •  AI replaces jobs, and platforms enable this: platforms act as the mediator between the AI and the user, and offer the interface and central place to ask for e.g. law advice.
  •  AI provides new services. This is especially the case for healthcare, where improved pattern recognition can detect tumors, or evolutionary algorithms can design new medicine. Add to this the possibility to turn code into biological products via synthetic biology, and the range of services expands.
  •  AI provides the boost that data analytics needed to make sense of the data collected and created via platforms. Platforms enable the recording of every transaction, which results in vast amounts of data, which can be useful also outside the interests of marketing.

Things to keep an eye on

The range of application areas of AI will expand, covering new industries, such as financial analytics, advising, insurance and law. Bank of America estimates the market for AI-based analytics to grow to 70 billion dollars by 2020. At the same time, artificial intelligence is becoming more and more ubiquitous; people use AI-based services everyday without realizing it. As a counter trend to the hype and excitement over the potential of AI, concern about its malevolent potential has also been raised, ranging from AI causing mass unemployment (most probable) to unleashing “a global propaganda war that sets governments and populations in opposition”.

The Finnish government recently released its action plan for enhancing the innovation ecosystem around intelligent robotics and automation in Finland, with a focus on security, privacy, user centricity and service design. Currently, the main innovation hub around AI and robotics in Finland is Airo island. A good example of a Finnish company applying AI is Zenrobotics, which makes recycling robots based on machine vision. The Finnish “Curious AI Company” is focusing on the development of advanced artificial intelligence and is now trying to apply its unsupervised machine learning to various pilot areas. Finns also take part in the discussion around AI, see for example the predictions on AI by Jarno M Koponen.

Selected articles and websites

A Government resolution to promote the development of intelligent robotics and automation
The next AI is no AI
AI and Communication: Machines That Can ‘Hear’ and ‘Understand’ Voices
Siri creators unveiled a new AI platform that seems to blow Siri out of the water
New Infosys AI tool could transform the way companies maintain complex systems
The AI Revolution: The Road to Superintelligence
New AI security system cleverly combines machine learning and human intuition
DimensionalMechanics raises $4.7M for enterprise artificial intelligence platform

 

Mikko Dufva

Research Scientist VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd
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