Mobile Phone and Satellite Data to Map Poverty

Mobile Phone and Satellite Data to Map Poverty

Published By: University of Southampton, 2/07/2017

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Researchers, led by WorldPop at University of Southampton and Flowminder Foundation, have developed a way to measure poverty levels in Bangladesh. They combine anonymous mobile phone data, such as data usage and distances traveled by the phone’s user, with satellite sensor data such as use of electric lights. They hope to provide more precise data about poverty levels to help governments and relief organizations combat poverty.

Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level of Article: 13

Extended Discussion Questions

  • What advantages do anonymous mobile phone and satellite sensor data provide over traditional census data and household surveys?
  • Are there ethical issues that might arise from attempting to map poverty levels with the new method? (Examples to start: Privacy issues? Issues with how governments or companies might use the data?)
    • Do you think those ethical issues are different from issues with traditional methods? Why or why not?
  • Dr. Steele, the lead researcher, mentions the differences between mobile phone datasets in densely and sparsely populated areas, stating, “More masts in cities means more information, contrasted with the countryside where mobile receiving towers can be thinly spread.”
    • What effects might the thinness of the phone data have on the results of mapping rural and remote areas?
    • How might the difference in available data between densely and sparsely populated area exaggerate or minimize the appearance of a digital divide?
  • The researchers acknowledge that some of the poorest members of society may not own a mobile phone. What are some ways the researchers could account for this subset of society if they wanted to include them in the mapping results?

Relating This Story to the CSP Curriculum Framework

Global Impact Learning Objectives:

  • LO 7.2.1 Explain how computing has impacted innovations in other fields.
  • LO 7.3.1 Analyze the beneficial and harmful effects of computing.
  • LO 7.4.1 Explain the connections between computing and real-world contexts, including economic, social, and cultural contexts.

Global Impact Essential Knowledge:

  • EK 7.1.2G The move from desktop computers to a proliferation of always-on mobile computers is leading to new applications.
  • EK 7.3.1J Technology enables the collection, use, and exploitation of information about, by, and for individuals, groups, and institutions.
  • EK 7.4.1A The innovation and impact of social media and online access varies in different countries and in different socioeconomic groups.
  • EK 7.4.1D Groups and individuals are affected by the “digital divide” — differing access to computing and the Internet based on socioeconomic or geographic characteristics.

Other CSP Big Ideas:

  • Idea 3 Data and Infomation

Banner Image: “Network Visualization – Violet – Offset Crop”, derivative work by ICSI. New license: CC BY-SA 4.0. Based on “Social Network Analysis Visualization” by Martin Grandjean. Original license: CC BY-SA 3.0

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