Big Data- the Future of the Census

Both the US and the UK conduct traditional censuses every ten years. Aside from population, censuses also gather information about age, race, occupation and etc. Census data can help companies and governments determine the target population so as to provide services more effectively. Since the Census is conducted for every ten years, however, a large portion of the information collected is outdated. The 2010 census cost $13 billion, so the government cannot afford to conduct the Census frequently. But with the development of big-data technologies, it seems to be possible to replace traditional censuses with big data algorithms in the near future.

According to  Technology Tipping Points, governments are expected to replace their censuses with big-data resources in 2023. But at least for now, we are still not able to replace the traditional census. For private companies, it is hard to gather high-quality data. But governments have been collecting data from citizens since their birth. Administrative data refers to information collected by administrations, such as birth and death records. Finland stopped conducting population census since 1990. They use the administrative data to estimate population instead.

Big-data technologies can reduce the cost of conducting censuses, and provide real-time data, but many people have privacy concerns about it. In fact, citizens already have worries regarding the traditional census. The US Census Bureau survey contains sensitive questions about when people leave home in the morning, which is hard for people to believe it is necessary for governments. When it comes to big data, citizens will not able to control what kind of information is collected and the way it is collected. Also, the accuracy of the data and algorithms is not guaranteed.  One thing, without doubt, is that new job categories will occur when jobs for traditional censuses disappear. There will be positions for maintaining the algorithms and protect the data gathered.

Technological innovations always come with opportunities and costs. We need to have an open mind about it. Most importantly, governments need to reduce the negative consequences of the lag of related laws and regulations as soon as possible- i.e. starting to form new regulations for big data now.

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