Using data mining as a weapon in the fight against Covid-19

Efforts to track and predict the spread of Covid-19 are shedding light on new and innovative methods for the application of traditional data tracking and analysis techniques

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Adam Jeffs

As confirmed coronavirus cases reach more than 3.2 million globally, those fighting the battle against the pandemic have been inspired to implement innovative methods to help predict the spread of the outbreak.

The past few months have seen a number of governments and organizations involved in the Covid-19 response across the globe adopting data mining techniques and spatial analysis mapping tools to assist in analyzing the spread of the virus. Such forward-thinking methodology has grown in prevalence, as various organizations have made their software, platforms and data available for free.

Since the outbreak of SARS in 2003, there has been a global uptake in the development of tools and techniques for tracking, analyzing and predicting the spread of a disease. As a result, a number of organizations are offering services that could be vital weapons in the war against Covid-19 today, giving them an opportunity to showcase their efficacy in the tracking and analysis of a global pandemic.

Although the immediate benefit of this is to provide governments and organizations the necessary tools to limit the impact of Covid-19, this could also be seen as an astute business maneuver by data service providers to legitimate their business models through the use of their facilities, currently deemed critical. Indeed, there is diminished trust in big data companies today, particularly for businesses who came under fire for an alleged connection to Cambridge Analytica, and an altruistic application of their resources could certainly restore some faith in the necessity of data collection.

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There are already numerous solutions being made available worldwide for free to those who can make best use of them. Palantir’s data integration platform ‘Foundry’, TigerGraph’s graph database technology and CARTO’s location intelligence platform are some examples of tools that have been made available globally for any government or private organization currently working to track the spread of Covid-19. Analytics vendor Starburst has also stepped up, announcing that its enterprise software ‘Presto’ would be made available to healthcare researchers for free.

Key strategies for utilizing these services revolve around the application of data mining techniques to big data sets. For example, Facebook and Google are already in discussions with the US Government about the possibility of utilizing location and movement data from Americans’ smartphones; Theresa Do, leader of the Federal Healthcare Advisory and Solutions team at business analytics software provider SAS, is proposing the use of data sets drawn from social media.

By mining these data sets, involved organizations hope to create advanced mapping tools with the capability to not only track current spread of the virus, but to predict how it will develop in the future. This can offer insights into the power and capabilities of the various data software and tools currently being implemented, providing business leaders and process excellence professionals with an idea of how they can apply them to get the most out of available data within their own organizations.