When COVID-19 first hit, scientists, politicians, charities and health bodies scrambled around trying to find out where people were catching it, how ill they were getting and how contagious it was. We needed data.
Bright Data, a company that turns publicly available web data into structured data sets for businesses, suddenly realised it was able to help. CEO Or Lenchner took the radical decision to make Bright Data’s technology and expertise available to researchers, non-profits, NGOs and even select public-sector organisations on a pro-bono basis.
“It all started when COVID-19 hit the world back in March 2020 and was announced as a pandemic,” says Lenchner. “Bright Data was initially invited to work on the ‘Sprint COVID-19’ taskforce, which was led by a leading hospital in Israel, as well as businesses such as AWS, to find better ways to diagnose this growing pandemic based on the information released by China and Italy (the first to suffer from the pandemic on a mass scale).
“In those early days, we needed to think outside the box – and this included using public web data. In less than 24 hours, our team was able to provide crucial web data that helped inform the medical protocols with remote diagnoses.”
We’re only limited by our imaginations
The Bright Initiative was formally established a year later, in April 2021. Today it works with 502 partners who benefit from the technology as well as 24/7 support.
For Keren Pakes, who leads The Bright Initiative, using data to drive positive change in the world is a no-brainer. She says, “Whether tackling climate change or social issues, we want to drive things forward with the help of web data. We’re limited only by our imaginations, so we’re always pleased when a prospective partner comes to us with a new idea. Our only stipulation is that each partner goes through the same comprehensive compliance processes as Bright Data’s commercial clients.”
Fighting child exploitation
Israeli non-profit ELEM, which protects at-risk youth, has been working with The Bright Initiative to develop a unique machine learning system. The system is based on the social media public profiles of previous victims, to identify teenage victims of intrafamilial abuse. This enables the charity to reach out to victims – who would, typically, otherwise remain silent – to provide a lifeline, offering help.
Similarly, US-based non-profit Human Trafficking Initiative Labs (HTI Labs) uses Bright Data’s technology to identify potential networks within sex and human trafficking circles. HTI Labs then passes the high-risk cases identified to law enforcement partners.
“Climate change is the greatest challenge currently facing humanity. We must use all the tools at our disposal to tackle it, including public web data,” says Lenchner. To drive this cause forward, The Bright Initiative has partnered with UK-based start-up accelerator Subak, which funds and scales organisations using technology and environmental science to drive behaviour and policy change.
"Working with Subak, we can ensure that innovators with radical ideas have the data they need to make a difference,” adds Lenchner. “Based on our work with commercial customers, we know just how powerful the insights drawn from public web data can be. There’s clearly significant value in replicating this model in the fight against climate change.”
Shaping public policy
A key pillar of The Bright Initiative is promoting responsible data. “This requires close collaboration between the public, private, and third sectors,” says Lenchner. The Bright Initiative is currently supporting the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport as it implements the country’s National Data Strategy – which will transform the UK into a world-leading data economy, while ensuring public trust in data use.
The Bright Initiative provides hands-on workshops to introduce the world of web data collection to students from universities including King’s College London and ETH Zürich, with a focus on professional enhancement, innovation and ethical considerations.
For students who want to pursue this area further, The Bright Initiative also offers internships designed to help them kickstart a career in the data domain. “As leaders in the web data space, it’s our duty to inspire and educate the next generation of talent,” says Lenchner. “This area offers brilliant opportunities for career progression and the chance to make a positive impact on the world. We must make university-level students aware of these opportunities to create an all-important talent pipeline.”
In addition to working directly with students, The Bright Initiative supports university researchers from institutions including SciencesPo, Princeton and Oxford. Their areas of study include broadband coverage, network traffic interference by nation states, online discrimination and more. All rely on publicly available web data as the backbone of their research.
The Bright Initiative is about to launch a new academy. Pakes says, “Driving change starts with knowledge, and this is our first and foremost mission – to make the impact that is so needed with the vital tool of web data."
Learn more about The Bright Initiative and the leading web data collection platform, Bright Data, here: https://brightinitiative.com/