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Brazil Using Smartphones For Planning the Future 115

Posted by timothy
from the emergent-order-too-unreliable dept.
shafiur writes "Brazil has bought 150,000 LG smartphones and has embarked on the world's first fully digital national census. Can they succeed when the US recently failed to go digital? The Brazilians say that the digital census has several advantages over paper and pen methods. They say that the data is more accurate since GPS data will pinpoint the exact location of a household. The GPS data is cross-referenced with satellite images to ensure that responses are correctly geo-tagged. The recently begun census will underpin future publicy-making decisions."
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Brazil Using Smartphones For Planning the Future

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  • US did do GPS (Score:3, Informative)

    by ogre7299 (229737) <jjtobin@[ ]ch.edu ['umi' in gap]> on Sunday August 29, 2010 @03:55PM (#33410292)

    The US census did use GPS to pinpoint the exact locations of households. So Brazil can't do that much better....

    • by pbahra (1889666)
      Unfortunately - not all of the US tech worked and they had to revert to paper/pen methods. See this CNN story for more info: http://money.cnn.com/2009/07/20/technology/GPS_census/index.htm?section=money_technology [cnn.com] Brazil have been building up this for several years by trialling the tech on previous surveys and they can say that it is a wholly digital census.
      • I love ho politicians "mission creep" these things. What is the reason Census was invented? So that Representatives in the House could be assigned by population. The End. There is no need to record my sex, my preferred orientation, my kids names, how many dogs I own, my income, or track me with a GPS in order to accomplish the above task. The count doesn't even need to be accurate. An error of +/- 1 person per district will not dramatically effect the representation in the House. Y

  • Publicy? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Do you mean "policy"?

  • Not the First (Score:5, Interesting)

    by grcumb (781340) on Sunday August 29, 2010 @04:06PM (#33410344) Homepage Journal

    Strictly speaking, Brazil is not the first nation to do this.

    The tiny Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu recently completed their 2010 census using smart phones. They mapped every single household across over 80 inhabited islands using GPS and are in the process of putting everything into a GIS-ready database.

    The challenge, of course, was several orders of magnitude smaller, but as a proof of concept, it was compelling. To be able to use electronic data gathering ina Least Developed Country with no mobile phone service to 20% of the country is pretty remarkable. This is the first time in its history that Vanuatu has had reliable, complete demographic data.

    • Do you know if they have cell service on all of those islands with satellite backhauls? Or did they have to physically aggregate the data from the devices?

      • Re:Not the First (Score:5, Informative)

        by grcumb (781340) on Sunday August 29, 2010 @06:06PM (#33410948) Homepage Journal

        Do you know if they have cell service on all of those islands with satellite backhauls? Or did they have to physically aggregate the data from the devices?

        For the most part, they logged the data to the devices, then brought them back to Port Vila (the capital) and transferred it to the central system.

        GPRS service is available throughout much of the country, but at terribly slow speeds and very high prices (about US$4.00/MB). It is being used to transfer monitoring data from the several active volcanoes we have, but to my knowledge, not for much else. Even donors find the service too expensive and slow to rely on.

        There are VSAT uplinks at various places around the islands, but the two telcos here rely mostly on microwave links to hop from one island to the next.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          the two telcos here rely mostly on microwave links to hop from one island to the next.

          Considering the relatively small distances involved, microwave links are actually faster than VSAT uplinks. Going right across from one island to the next is much shorter than up to orbit and back, and there's no need to worry about intervening landscape getting in the way.

        • Just finished reading the first couple posts from your blog. Any advice for someone who wants to pickup and move to Vanuatu to either do networking or volunteer work?

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by grcumb (781340)

            Just finished reading the first couple posts from your blog. Any advice for someone who wants to pickup and move to Vanuatu to either do networking or volunteer work?

            Come visit first. There's a regional geek conference that should give you an idea of where things are at, coming up in mid-September. PacINET 2010 [pacinet-2010.org] promises to be pretty good fun, and registration is free. If you can pony up for the ticket and cheap accommodation (guest houses start at about US$20/night, then you'll be right.

            A more general, cautionary note to folks thinking about working in ICT development projects in underdeveloped countries: You'd better be strong, flexible, resourceful, good with (human) [imagicity.com]

    • Least developed country? Bullshit. Vanuatu has some of the most developed communications infrastructure on the planet. Since it is so remote and has some of the highest long distance rates in the world (Niue Island is similar) it processes calls for phone sex. People used to pay $4/minute on the long distance bills I used to process. We had a lecture once where they explained it all. The calls get relayed back to the States for operators to answer.
    • by richlv (778496)

      heh. wondering whether the map data will be publicly available, and thus usable for projects like openstreetmap :)

  • Having the answers pinpointed by GPS doesn't seem too good. A census contains lots of data that's better kept to a somewhat generic location.

    • A census contains lots of data that's better kept to a somewhat generic location.

      Better for you and I, yes. But governments have other ideas.

      • In my country, the government has imposed privacy legislation which prevents such specific data gathering. The company I used to work for went out of business because of that legislation.
    • Every housing unit is located exactly for the Census. This was done last year via GPS handhelds to create maps for the actual enumeration that was done recently. The problem is that because of the time delay between the mapping and census, it was cheaper to destroy all the computer equipment and do the census by paper than to recommission all the electronics that were used previously. The information showing the location of housing units can then used for a lot of purposes, for example, where do you think G
  • Cost of Labor (Score:5, Insightful)

    by im_thatoneguy (819432) on Sunday August 29, 2010 @04:17PM (#33410406)

    The claim that the US process cost 10x as much I imagine has more to do with the fact that the Census is a labor intensive process. So intensive that it altered our unemployment rates briefly.

    So yes the cost per person was about 10x higher in the US but the cost per hour for a census employee was probably considerably higher as well.

    The Brazilian Census cost about $1B USD. Of that only $75M was for their hardware. So in neither scenario was hardware cost significant. I doubt we spent $13B more than the Brazilians on developing custom hardware that we didn't use--so it's bad journalism and misleading reporting to suggest in the same sentence that our solution to develop custom hardware was an example of US waste.

    Furthermore if we have 30% more people in the US that means we would need 320,000 census devices. That's not a bad run of a product and I would say safely warrants custom hardware. Especially if you could create a far less expensive device. slow RISC Processor + Basic software + Broad-com chip w/ AGPS should be less than $100 to make. This is the census we're talking about. 7 questions. You don't need anything more than a TI-83, GPS and an 3G antenna to make that an effective product. I would be surprised if you couldn't make something which uses less than $20 in wholesale components.

    • Re:Cost of Labor (Score:5, Interesting)

      by aggles (775392) on Sunday August 29, 2010 @04:41PM (#33410560)
      I had a good look at the US Census hardware and used it in the field with a census taker. It did nothing a smart phone couldn't do, but appeared to be an over-engineered yet poorly featured military industrial complex piece of crap. I'm SURE it cost way too much money, especially compared with the cost of an LG smart phone.
      • by Shakrai (717556) *

        It did nothing a smart phone couldn't do, but appeared to be an over-engineered yet poorly featured military industrial complex piece of crap. I'm SURE it cost way too much money, especially compared with the cost of an LG smart phone.

        Why don't you drop that "poorly featured military industrial complex piece of crap" onto a rock alongside the LG smart phone and see which one remains functional?

        • by Minwee (522556)

          Why don't you drop that "poorly featured military industrial complex piece of crap" onto a rock alongside the LG smart phone and see which one remains functional?

          First off, the would both have to _be_ functional to begin with. A device that cannot do what it needs to is useless even when it isn't broken. Second, even if the 'rugged' piece of crap is five times as durable as the 'cheap' piece of crap, you're still screwing yourself if it costs ten times as much to replace when it does break.

          Surely there a

          • by Shakrai (717556) *

            I'm sure there are. I'm just saying it's pretty absurd to think you could just take an off the shelf smartphone and throw it into the field for heavy duty use. There is actually some method to the madness of government procurement.

    • They may be using modern technology to do the census, but they're using them in a primitive way. Modern statistical methods allow one to take a small sample and accurately determine the entire population and its makeup, at a tiny fraction of the cost.
      • Re:Cost of Labor (Score:5, Informative)

        by arb phd slp (1144717) on Sunday August 29, 2010 @05:39PM (#33410842) Homepage Journal

        They may be using modern technology to do the census, but they're using them in a primitive way. Modern statistical methods allow one to take a small sample and accurately determine the entire population and its makeup, at a tiny fraction of the cost.

        The Census Bureau has been arguing for sampling for several Censuses now. It's not like they aren't aware of modern statistical methods. It's a no-go. Congress won't approve it. It might not even be legal since the letter of the law clearly specifies an enumeration of every individual.
        Besides, the specific data from this Census gets opened in 2080 and will be a treasure trove for historians and genealogists.

        • Besides, the specific data from this Census gets opened in 2080 and will be a treasure trove for historians and genealogists.

          That's very important. Social scientists use US Census records extensively.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Raenex (947668)

          It might not even be legal since the letter of the law clearly specifies an enumeration of every individual.

          If they wanted to follow the law, they wouldn't ask all those other questions that had nothing to do with enumerating, including questions about race.

          Besides, the specific data from this Census gets opened in 2080 and will be a treasure trove for historians and genealogists.

          Or it may be opened before then [wikipedia.org] and used for other reasons.

      • by your reasoning, general elections wouldn't be necessary either. asimov wrote in a short tale that in an unspecified future, computers were so good, statistical tools so sofisticated, that the elections were decided by interviewing a SINGLE person.

        but the real world doesn't work like that. unless you interview (or count the votes of) the whole population, there's an enourmous margin for abuse and fraud.

        and don't come with "oh, but the sample will be selected randomly". by whom, may i ask ? by a computed t

    • by experience, i can say that wages here in brasil are about 4x lower for the same job than in US, so if labor was the reason for the high cost of US census, it should have costed 4 gigadolars, not 13.

      other factors, to take into account:

      population size:

      brasil has an estimated 200 million inhabitans, US 300, barely 30% difference
      the largest states are also the ones with lower population density, but the state of amazonas dwarfs alaska.
      i doubt that alaskan landscape makes it as dificult to reach the populatio

      • Well, I don't brag a lot about our all-electronic elections. That is the kind of system that one can only proove that is flawed, if it is working, nobody can ever be sure. Ok, nobody proved our elections are flawed, so we are not sure, that is way better than the US situation, but still nothing to brag about.

        Just to be clear, I'm not completely against electronic elections. It is more a kind of trade off, do you want the possibility of undetected convetional (dispersed) election fraud or modern (centralized

  • But well-designed stratified-sampling surveys produce better statistics at lower cost. Of course, governments are often after more than mere statistics...

  • First? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mattj452 (838570) on Sunday August 29, 2010 @04:36PM (#33410522)
    The Nordic countries (Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland in this context) have all abolished the manual census counting years ago. In Sweden, the last census survey was made in 1990. Since then, an automatic system has been in place to which you report whenever you move, get married, have kids etc (well, I think the hospital is reporting children). Formally, this has to be made on paper so it is technically not a fully digital system. However, since the introduction of E-ID's a few years back, it has been possible to do this online, beating Brazil with at least 4 years.
    • Since then, an automatic system has been in place to which you report whenever you move, get married, have kids etc

      Darth Vader: "I wouldn't be too proud of this technological monstrosity you've created."

      Really, I wouldn't. I'm perfectly happy with our government counting us by hand every so often, rather than having to report my movements to them. Frankly, I don't trust our leaders nor our bureaucracy that much. Not that our various Governments (Federal, State and local) can't figure where I am and where I've been easily enough with the existing privacy-robbing databases that are popping up like weeds everywhere, but

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        You're talking about completely different cultures. Americans are afraid that the nanny state will take over in the future. Nordic people are afraid that their nanny states won't be sufficiently good at nannying in the future.

        • You're talking about completely different cultures. Americans are afraid that the nanny state will take over in the future. Nordic people are afraid that their nanny states won't be sufficiently good at nannying in the future.

          True. But it's not the nannying that worries me. Well, it does, only because nannying is so damned expensive and I'm a taxpayer. I'm more worried about further loss of civil liberties which, sadly, is a concern for me as an American.

          • Re:First? (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Rakshasa Taisab (244699) on Sunday August 29, 2010 @11:33PM (#33412244) Homepage

            In the US, you worry about the government spying on you or infringing on your rights, while giving the corporations free pass to fuck you in the butthole all day and night.

            In the Nordic countries, we make sure our elected representatives and civil servants are people who do the right thing, in addition to expecting them to protect us from corporations too.

            Worrying about civil liberties? You guys won't even allow homosexuals to marry, wtf is that for civil liberties... Stop living in the 19'th century, as America is no longer the bastion of civil liberties it once was. It's frankly quite insulting and ignorant point of view that more shows your ignorance than anything else.

            BTW, per capita cost of health care in Norway (the most expensive country to live in in the world) costs less than half what it costs in the US, yet covers everyone. I believe that should be classed under 'nannying is damned cheap' if done using the Northern Europe style public management.

            • by radtea (464814)

              BTW, per capita cost of health care in Norway (the most expensive country to live in in the world) costs less than half what it costs in the US, yet covers everyone. I believe that should be classed under 'nannying is damned cheap' if done using the Northern Europe style public management.

              Powerful people within the Catholic Church wanted to believe that the Earth was the centre of God's creation. Galileo proved otherwise by observing the phases of Venus and the moons of Jupiter.

              Guess what happened next?

              If you keep pointing out the objective, measureable, successes of Nordic social/liberal democracy you are not going to convince the kind of person who thinks it natural to ask the laughable question, "Can [Brazil] succeed when the US recently failed to go digital?"

              That depth of ignorance, bot

            • It's nice that you're proud of your country, but let's not confuse pride with the facts.
              Japan [aneki.com] is the most expensive country to live in and has been for some time. South Korea is next and also has been for sometime.

              Secondly, I call BS on your "cost" analysis. While it is almost certainly true Norwegians, on average, pay less, have better coverage, and less uncovered in the field of health care, the true cost can only be derived by an in depth analysis for what they pay and pay into the system, and what part

              • Furthermore, for all your Nannying, that is so wonderful, it seems you've given up lots of freedoms to obtain that. You may have complete trust in the benign nature of your leaders, but most of us Americans still live by the knowledge of why we threw our European leaders out. Yeah, all those kings and queens, and Religious leaders were so benign weren't they? After all, no one really expects the Spanish Inquisition. I'm with Screwmaster on this one. If things get bad enough in this country, I feel comforted

              • by olau (314197)

                Hey - he's talking about the Nordic countries, not the whole of Europe. The whole of Europe includes the former Soviet-influenced eastern nations which aren't really comparable to the Nordic countries.

              • Sorry, but cost-of-living by city is not the same as that of a country as a whole. Tokyo comes quite high, the whole of Japan not as much. Facts you know, which vary a bit due to exchange rates.

                And the BS on true costs? I'm talking about per capita cost for the whole thing [healthaffairs.org] based on OECD studies. A person doesn't pay anything himself it's all aggregated and newer figures than those in the link show the US is only exaggerating the gap.

                So no, I won't find that the total cost of health care is more in socialize

                • Sorry, but according to the Numbers Japan and South Korea both beat out Norway in cost of living. Unless, you can show some impartial facts otherwise. I've shown you one link supporting.

                  Your OECD study leaves out one small, but crucial fact. The per capita of US healthcare is heavily skewed. The richest 1% of the people in US spend almost 1/4 of the total expenditure of healthcare. In order to get a true picture, you have to take the real average.

                  Of course, there is lies the crux of the problem. What is

            • by Shakrai (717556) *

              In the US, you worry about the government spying on you or infringing on your rights, while giving the corporations free pass to fuck you in the butthole all day and night.

              Corporations can't assfuck you unless you do business with them. You don't have a choice about doing business with the Government. That's the difference.

              You guys won't even allow homosexuals to marry, wtf is that for civil liberties

              The proper way to fix that is to get the state out of the "marriage" business altogether. Civil unions that recognize one's legal rights regarding their partner (right to make medical decisions, tax benefits, etc.) should be the only involvement that the state has in "marriage". Let the churches argue about what "marriage" is. As far as the state is c

            • by operagost (62405)

              In the US, you worry about the government spying on you or infringing on your rights, while giving the corporations free pass to fuck you in the butthole all day and night.

              Do we seriously have to continue to hear this rubbish from the socialism apologists? Why don't you look into history and see how many people have been killed and abused by corporations compared to governments. If you want to start a pissing match, I'm sure we'll find lots of fine points for Norway but they'll be quickly outnumbered by

            • by ErikZ (55491) *

              You guys won't even allow homosexuals to marry, wtf is that for civil liberties...

              Then you don't understand the issue here. The issue is getting "Married" in a church (or whatever your religion has) and being marked down in the government books as a "Union".

              The controversy happens because those who push for Gay Marriage want the government to force religions to marry same sex couples. If they just went for fixing "Unions", it would have happened already.

              On top of that, the pro gay marriage people were disho

            • It's frankly quite insulting and ignorant point of view that more shows your ignorance than anything else.

              Well, you're obviously something of an arrogant ass with a bone to pick, but if you'd actually read my post, you'd realize I was referring to my own country not insulting yours, which would have been difficult for me considering I don't actually know were you're from. Not, frankly, that I care very much. In any event, maybe you can trust your leaders and your bureaucrats to not waste your money and permit billions in fraud. If so, that is just great for you, but as an American, I'm not so fortunate. Nannyin

            • Stop living in the 19'th century, as America is no longer the bastion of civil liberties it once was.

              P.S. whoever modded this fruitbasket "insightful" is just as ignorant as he is. I understand that many of you don't like America, but calling all Americans "ignorant" is no way to improve relations. It just makes us dislike you as much as you dislike us, and what purpose that serves I do not know. I guess it makes you feel better or something.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by guantamanera (751262)
      Sweden doesn't as many immigrants as the USA or Brazil get legal or illegal that go in and out, plus in Sweden you don't have a big uncrossable jungle where there are still people who have never seen a white man. I used to live in Finland in a swedish speaking island Maarianhamina(lived with finns) and even counting all the people in each archipelago along with their livestock is way easier than counting all the people from the amazon.

      The Nordic countries (Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland in this context) have all abolished the manual census counting years ago. In Sweden, the last census survey was made in 1990. Since then, an automatic system has been in place to which you report whenever you move, get married, have kids etc (well, I think the hospital is reporting children). Formally, this has to be made on paper so it is technically not a fully digital system. However, since the introduction of E-ID's a few years back, it has been possible to do this online, beating Brazil with at least 4 years.

  • It can't be accurate, with a 72% participation rate (http://www.census.gov/). Existing data already collected by the govt and various public and private agencies such as licensing, income and real estate taxes can provide far more accurate data with minimal cost. The notion that we still have to manually count people is ludicrous. The assumption that the govt doesn't already have details on anyone in this country who has ever filed a piece of paper with the state is bogus. It's just a matter of sharing

    • by Stihdjia (1870316)

      People are already wary enough of the census. Sharing the information with the IRS would cut that participation rate in half. Privacy is one of the most important parts of any census.

      Also, that 72% you mentioned is the voluntary mail-in participation rate. This is the easy part of the Census, the hard part being trying to find all of the people who deliberately dodge anything that has anything to do with the government. And believe me, they try VERY hard to find each person in the US. Legal resident, homele

      • by Shakrai (717556) *

        The point is to get an accurate count of EVERYONE.

        If that's the point then why don't they just knock on my door and ask how many people live there? Why do they have to ask for all manner of information (race/gender/age) besides that? The Constitution mandates the Federal Government count the populace every ten years. It does not mandate or authorize the Federal Government to collect biographical or statistical information beyond the number of people in the country.

        I filled in the number of people living at my house on my census form and left everything

        • by Stihdjia (1870316)
          Not only are you very rude, but you're also wrong. [census.gov] She filled out as much of the form as possible by your appearance and other available data. I hope you didn't want to be misrepresented!
          • by Shakrai (717556) *

            Just because they claim it's constitutional does not make it so. Even if it were I would still refuse on general principle. The Government already has a track record [wikipedia.org] of abusing the data it collects via the census. I see no reason to give them anything beyond the number of people at my residence.

            And no, I don't give a rats ass if they misrepresented me.

    • by Stihdjia (1870316)

      Double post, sorry, but I didn't remember to answer your question. The Census is used to determine population statistics for use in congressional representation, and basically nothing else. That's how a republic works.

  • "The recently begun census will underpin future publicy-making decisions"

    It is not nice when the government only uses the data it collects for "spin". Hopefully they are also able to use it for policy-making.... ;)

  • by Anonymous Coward

    AC because I'm a long-time lurker and rarely a poster. I was a 2010 Census Enumerator (door-knocker for the people who didn't send in their forms) and worked with people who had been responsible for locating the households originally. They all had handheld GPS devices and address lists, my crew leader wasn't technical enough to know/remember what imagery or databases they were using to start with but once they found a location they would press a button on the GPS device and locate it precisely on their maps

  • While spending sunday afternoon with beers and old movies, someone knocked on my door and said it was the census and all. Since they had "booked" the visit earlier I knew it was them. (Yes, I'm in Brazil)
    As soon as I opened the door I noticed the blue & very rugged "smartphone" (I would rather call a PDA) and the lady was really quick on making all the questions and even collecting my signature. (While singing into the touchscreen I could see that the thingy is pretty well designed and simple.

    I belie
    • not as well designed as you might think.

      i live in a house with other 2 roommates, so it was classified as a "colective residence", this caused some problems for the 2 enumarators (a nice midle-aged lady and a 20 something boy). seems the interface is very linear, they have to input avery answer ano after another, and if they need to correct anything, it's kinda confusing.

      i don't know if it's by design (to avoid fraud) or a typical case of good programers that are lousy at interface design.

      but, minor annoyan

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