Data Isn’t Abstract – Data Is People

In January this year the number of internet users around the world reached 4 billion. Well over half the world’s population is now online, with the latest data showing that nearly a quarter of a billion of new users came online for the first time in 2017.

Today, the world’s current output of data is roughly 2.5 quintillion bytes a day, with the US alone generating 2.657,700 gigabytes of data every minute.

Data Is Everywhere

The vastness of the global data pool is truly mind boggling. And its reach is equally awesome. Data is part of almost every aspect of our day to day lives, whether we’re leaving traces of our behaviours, likes and dislikes across social media or benefitting from data-driven AI breakthroughs in safer car technology or cutting edge medicine.

In this global morass of data, it can be tempting to see data as an abstract force. But data isn’t abstract. Data is people. Rebecca Lemov, an associate professor of the history of science at Harvard University is of the same opinion. Writing on “aeon”, a website for “serious thinkers” she says “most definitions of big data don’t take account of its inherent humanness …We need to see the human in the data machine.”

I would go a step further than Professor Lemov and advocate that we don’t just need to see the human in the data machine, we actually need to put the human at the heart of the data machine.

Control Your Financial Data

Castlight Financial’s Affordability Passport and CaaS (Categorisation as a Service) affordability products are all about giving people more control over their finances and lenders more information on which to make sound underwriting decisions. Our technology is dependent on data, on processing tens of millions of fragments of transactional data in order to deliver financial products that help ensure people can enjoy safer financial lives.

So – data is very important to us. But it’s simply not as important as the people who give it to us. That’s why our data scientist team are currently developing Castlight’s Data Charter to be launched in the summer – to put people at the heart of the data machine. I’m excited about this project because, whilst I know our data scientist team will be crunching a lot of numbers and will be publishing all the technical information some people people will want to know such as encryption thresholds, I also know that at the very core of the Charter is our ethical stance. And at the heart of our ethical stance is our commitment to people. Our corporate commitments include:

  1. Our commitment to developing products to create a safer financial world.
  2. Our commitment to using cutting edge AI to analyse a customer’s data and put the information straight back into that customer’s hands.
  3. Our commitment to never selling or passing on personal data.
  4. Our commitment to only using anonymised data to drive our Research and Development programme, which in turn makes our products more effective and people safer.
  5. Our commitment to only using anonymised data to deliver our CaaS product which gives underwriters enhanced data and allows them to make safer lending decisions for their customers.

Watch this space for the launch of Castlight’s Data Charter, but as we work each day in the Castlight office, putting people at the heart of data, I wanted to share these thoughts with you in advance of publication.