In today’s world of Big Data, with locations and movements always being tracked, there are new ways that data can be helpful and in some cases, even lifesaving. Facebook has started an initiative to provide relief organizations with location data for their users during disasters.

While Facebook already allows users to mark themselves as safe during disasters, they will collect this and other location-based data to present to UNICEF, the International Red Cross and World Food Program in the form of “disaster maps.” Three different types of maps will be created and shared, including: Location Density, Movement, and Safety Check. They will show where people are distributed, whether their location has changed, and where people are clustered in safe areas.

Collecting and using this data can be very helpful during an earthquake, flood or other natural disaster. There’s also a slightly darker side to Big Data collection. What other uses does the collection of location data serve, and could the location data be used for advertising? Even more important: who could have access to this data in the future? When it comes to Big Data, privacy and protection are remain real concerns, even in the face of potentially life-saving applications.

Written by IEEE on July 19, 2017