THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 03 September 2020 Digital gains: Unlocking mobile data for real-time policymaking(Financial Express)

Digital gains: Unlocking mobile data for real-time policymaking(Financial Express)

Mains Paper 3: Science and Tech 
Prelims level: The State of Mobile Data for Social Good report 
Mains level: Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life


  • United Nations, in its report, “The State of Mobile Data for Social Good”, identifies over 200 projects or studies leveraging mobile data for social good, surveys the landscape today, assesses the current barriers to scale, and makes recommendations for a way forward.

Significance of mobile data uses:

  • Recent research using Rwanda’s largest mobile phone network is used to examine the extent to which anonymised data from mobile phone networks can be used to predict the poverty and wealth of individual subscribers, as well as to create high-resolution maps of the geographic distribution of wealth. 
  • The fact that mobile phone data captures rich information, not only on the frequency and timing of communication events but also reflecting the intricate structure of an individual’s social network, patterns of travel and location choice, and histories of consumption and expenditure.
  • Regionally aggregated measures of phone penetration and use have also been shown to correlate with regionally aggregated population statistics from censuses and household surveys.
  • In the US, using the mobile location data during Covid-19, disease experts said that those who reduced their travel to less than a mile a day, on average, from about five miles might sharply curb the spread of the coronavirus, at least for now. 
  • It is also observed that in areas where public officials have resisted or delayed stay-at-home orders, people changed their habits far less. 
  • Though travel distances in those places have fallen drastically, they were still typically more than three times those in areas that had imposed lockdown orders.
  • Further, the mobility data provides a snapshot in time, and the behaviours it captures could change amid a fast-moving crisis. 

Outcome of the data:

  • Several public policy experts who reviewed the data said it strongly indicated that wealthier people are better able to stay home, they added that there could be other reasons for the differences-perhaps higher awareness of the risks or better access to information. 
  • The data points to clear holes in the government’s response to the pandemic’s fallout for low-income workers, which has primarily focused on those who have lost their jobs because of shutdowns and not on those with essential duties.
  • In India, this type of research has not yet started and perhaps not a single attempt has been made to harness the power of at least 1.2 crore mobile data users. 
  • The government has now a considerable database thanks to Aarogya Setu app, which it can effectively use to formulation plethora of policy prescriptions. 
  • With the help of location or travel data, the government can identify those who are in more need for support.
  • Specifically, the call records of a vast swathe of migrant workers who have travelled back from across states as well as within states could be effectively used for skilling, redeploying and even validating the database with the existing databases like PMJDY, Ujjwala, PMAY, Ayushman Bharat etc. 
  • This will give the government a clear idea of the intended beneficiaries and also building up a credit history of such borrowers at the bottom of the pyramid.

Way ahead:

  • Similarly, in India, there exists a need for the government to access telecommunication and related data for informing prudent policy decisions. 
  • However, this needs to be balanced with the concerns of privacy. In this regard, reference may be drawn to Section 91 (2) of The Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019 which enables the Centre to inter alia requisition any personal data ‘anonymised’ or other non-personal data for formulation of evidence-based policies, in consultation with authority proposed to be set up under the said Bill. 
  • Further, fundamental rights such as the right to privacy under the Constitution are not absolute and are subject to restrictions imposed under Article 19 (2), provided the measures meet the doctrine of proportionality.


Prelims Questions:

Q.1) With reference to the common electoral roll, consider the following statements:

1. In many states, the voters’ list for the panchayat and municipality elections is different from the one used for Parliament and Assembly elections.
2. The Election Commission of India supervise municipal and panchayat elections.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Answer: A

Mains Questions:

Q.1) To what extent mobile data is crucial to make policy making. Comment.