Weak growth necessitates that we use all of Canada's assets to reignite our economy. Yet, data are assets that have yet to be effectively leveraged. While we fixate on the numbers of startups or high growth firms, do we really have adequate data with which to build a resilient labour force or an innovative economy?
Without careful attention to some of the ways data can be misused, we run the risk of acting on those insights with potentially damaging outcomes. Identifying mistakes individuals and organizations make when dealing with data is important not just to data analysts and decision makers, but to the public too.
The recent rise of data journalism has witnessed the emergence of data visualization where the editors increasingly reinforce narrative with creative infographics. While major news outlets such as The Economist, The New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal retained experts in data science and visualization, most newspapers have entrusted the task to the graphics departments that rely on tools that are not specifically designed for data visualization. At times, the outcome is math and logic-defying graphics that present a false picture
At present, there is no one governing body that oversees data usage by marketers and media platforms. There are codes of ethics put out by the Canadian and American Marketing Associations, as well as individual ethical codes drafted by marketing research associations among others, but who is accountable to them?
Stephen Harper's Conservative government is quick to tout all it has done to improve Canada's economic competitiveness. But like competitive companies, competitive national economies require solid economic data. In scrapping the long-form census, the Harper administration has threatened the country's long-term economic prosperity.
The modern economies are all about competing on data and analytics. While smart governments and businesses are investing in collecting data and raising armies of data scientists, Statistics Canada is starving under the Harper government. Smart planning needs robust data and sound analytics. The Canadian government should learn from the global experts who are highlighting the advances their governments and businesses have made in data and analytics. Starving nation's statistical agency is the wrong policy in a data-centric world.
There's nothing wrong with raising concerns about respect for privacy with regard to certain commercial practices. But the quantity and quality of data collected, the use to which they are put, and the potential violations of respect for privacy have nothing in common with those of governments and their spy agencie
As more and more of our personal information circulates online, is stored in the cloud, or is moved about on USBs and other portable devices, it's essential that we make sure those data flows are secure. While governments have been quick to respond to this increased ability to conduct surveillance, they have not been so enthusiastic about creating and enforcing protections for innocent citizens.
On the heels of big data grabbing headlines the world over for its role in President Obama's re-election, could 2013 be the year big data makes the big leap into the mainstream, especially business? The task ahead of us is to take the promise of big data and realize it in every department and in every industry. Some surprising pioneers are already leading the way.
As Canadians respond to allegations about the misuse of robocalls in the 2011 federal campaign, it's critical that such technologies are not confused with tactics. The public debate must consider the potential these technologies offer political leaders to more effectively reach the citizens they serve.