Thursday, 9 March 2017

Enter the UN’s Data for Climate Action Challenge and save the world

If you're a data scientist or pride yourself on writing perfect database queries, there's a fascinating challenge tailored just for you. For the second year in a row, the United Nations Global Pulse is issuing the Data for Climate Action Challenge, a unique contest that gives you access to reams of anonymized social and environmental data. This year, Ars Technica has partnered with the UN and Western Digital to expand participation in the project. Your job, should you choose to apply, is to use that data to learn more about climate change and how we can prevent it.

Companies ranging from telecoms to banks will participate in a project that the UN calls "data philanthropy." And participants can apply for access to data related to mobile phone usage, mobility, traffic patterns, satellite imagery, social media, and weather. There will also be a "compendium of open datasets curated for the challenge." There are countless ways that the research could go, from looking at heat islands and foot traffic in cities, to exploring how satellite data reveals long-term drought patterns or sudden shifts in resource availability. Social media might reveal patterns in energy use or how people learn about climate change.

By organizing challenges like this, the UN also sets an example for how corporations can release important data in a responsible, anonymized way. All of the data released to applicants will be carefully anonymized, though privacy-protection measures will vary by company and dataset. Global Pulse has created a data protection principles document, which all participants must follow. These principles include not using personal communications without permission, limiting the amount of data to the "minimum necessary" for the projects proposed.

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