Q1 Newsletter, Women in Big Data – East

Women in Big Data – East
Quarter 1 Newsletter
February 15th, 2018

Hello WiBD community! Hope your New Year is off to a great start. WiBD East wrapped up 2017 with a 1200-member strong community across Washington DC, New York City, Boston and Pittsburgh. We are looking forward to an exciting 2018 with the launch of a chapter in Atlanta and many opportunities to learn and network.

Upcoming Events 

Application of Analytics in the field of Natural and Technological Disasters

Date: March 7th, 2018
Time: 6:00 PM
Where: McLean, VA

Local entrepreneur Pratima Damani will talk about her work on evaluating the impact of natural disasters on the housing market. We will also cover the hot topic of Deep Learning for malware detection. To sign up, visit Washington DC Women in Big Data Meetup.
What’s Brewing

Democratization of Machine Learning Workshop – Focused on new tools and technologies that make machine learning easier

Share the Knowledge Campaign – A pilot program that will seek to engage coaches and learners to deliver real projects.

Be on the lookout for communications regarding these and more!

Other Events

To get up to date information on our events, please join our LinkedIn Group and the local Meetup in your area.

Big Data in Your Saliva: Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Testing

Member Blog Author: Megan McAndrews

Maybe you’ve seen the 23andMe commercial featuring the young woman exploring her heritage around the world, or maybe you know someone who learned about a genetic predisposition or found a family relation from the service. Maybe you’ve even used one of the kits yourself, swabbing your cheek and wondering what answers your saliva holds.

But what kind of implications does direct-to-consumer genetic testing have in the realm of big data? Each swab generates data on an entire genome, and when these companies aggregate across millions of customers, they create a gold mine of genetic data. As someone who has always been interested in the intersection of bioethics and technology, I often find myself pondering both the vast research potential and the serious ethical concerns associated with these products.

Certainly, direct-to-consumer genetic testing companies can have a substantial impact in the field of medicine. According to 23andMe’s head of privacy, most of the company’s consumers consent to make their data (anonymized and in aggregate) available for research. Consequently, researchers who partner with the company can investigate the genetic basis of various conditions and possibly even develop diagnostic tools or gene therapies. For such endeavors as well as genealogical ones, these products provide a diverse and valuable source of data.

Yet there is a flip side as well, related to the privacy concerns that we face more and more when discussing big data. For example, what if one of these companies got hacked and exposed sensitive medical information about customers or their families? If several of your relatives get tested, how much genetic information can be gleaned about you? Several researchers have also questioned how much anonymity these companies can ensure and have demonstrated the ability to identify the origin of “anonymous” genetic data.

Several approaches can work in tandem to mitigate these concerns and promote medical and genealogical discoveries while maintaining proper consumer protections. From a technology standpoint, direct-to-consumer genetic testing companies need to commit to continued bolstering of their cyber and data security practices to prevent hacks. From a policy standpoint, it is important to support and strengthen legislation like the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act to ensure that employers and insurance providers do not use people’s genomes against them. Additionally, companies like 23andMe ought to expand their informed consent practices to ensure that consumers understand that their genomes could possibly be traced back to them, and the potential negative consequences should their data fall into the wrong hands. Such measures would allow researchers to make use of the big data these companies generate while limiting harmful outcomes.

Sources & Additional Reading

Contact Us 

To submit articles for upcoming newsletters or to report any errors, please contact Michelle Yao.

If you’re interested in volunteering or have any general inquiries about WiBD, please reach out to Gunjan Sharma.

 

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