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Tuesday, 27 March 2018

The Hindu Editorial : Gene Panel Challenge


Title: Gene panel challenge

(India still depends on European genetic panels. This has to change)

ü  In Nalgonda district of Telangana, Sai Chaitanya, 21, has been waiting for advancement in Indian genetic research. He has Ichthyosis, a condition caused by the mutation of a single gene, which has led to the growth of fish-like scales on his skin.

ü  Like him, many others are virtually locked into disease-prone gene pools and yearn for early detection and treatment.

ü  In India, private enterprises engaged in genome mapping now offer testing for relative genetic risks, which effectively predict the risk of diseases such as cancer and diabetes.

ü  The costs involved vary from ₹25,000 to ₹50,000. The not-so-apparent factor in genetic test results is that they do not guarantee comprehensive or accurate prognosis for individuals.

ü  Across India, screening for genetic diseases is a painstaking, expensive, and less-than-efficient process. This is because the country has not yet developed indigenous genetic panels specific to its native populations but continues to depend on European genetic panels, except for prenatal genetic testing, which is specific to Indian populations.

ü  A genetic panel is developed when scientists identify mutant genes that cause diseases in specific populations. Each panel comprises already identified genes that mutated in patients, causing specific health conditions, say, a type of diabetes. Once the panel is created, screening any number of individuals for specific diseases becomes cost-effective and efficient.

Title: The non-politics of outrage

  (We need a white paper on the extensive data markets that currently exist in India)

ü  We are witnessing mass outrage over certain actions or non-actions of Facebook (FB) and a British political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica (CA), regarding the use of personal data for political messaging during the U.S. presidential elections.

ü  It is not evident what the real concerns underlying the outrage are. And lastly, there is the important question of what it really means for countries such as India.

ü  As FB has clarified, the only illegal element here is that a research company transferred data to CA against FB policies. But both the company concerned and FB itself could have legitimately used the same user data for the same purpose of psychometrics-based micro-targeted political messaging for any of their paying clients.

ü  What exactly do we then have a problem with? Just with violation of FB’s policies, or with psychometrics-based political messaging and the collective national damage that it causes? Is it, for instance, alright if FB itself did similar things for its paying clients, which it has provisions for?

Digital controls

ü  Meddling in elections is a most serious issue, but there are other equally important data-centric threats — from complete data-based control over all activities and actors in a sector by platform companies (think Uber, but the process will soon reach as far as agriculture and manufacturing) to that of actual informational warfare, by name, which can wreck countries.
ü  Interestingly, CA’s parent company also offers data-intelligence services to militaries.

ü  Developing countries like India must realise that they do not have the kind of leverage that the U.S. or even the European Union (EU) have over global data giants.

ü  As this data gets converted into digitally-intelligent services in all sectors — from transport, commerce and tourism, to education and health, to agriculture and manufacturing, we are getting structurally sucked into foreign-controlled digital value chains.

ü  whether they influence and control our elections, or economics, or culture, or internal and external security, manoeuvring space for resistance will be limited.

 Political response needed

ü  The current exercise by the Srikrishna Committee on data protection seems centred entirely on personal data rights, which is insufficient.

 Vocabulary words:

  • Outrage (noun) = Fury, anger (उल्लंघन) 
  • Disclosure (noun) = Revelation (खुलासे) 
  • Exploitation (noun) = Misuse (शोषण) 
  • Disingenuous (adj) = Dishonest (कपटी) 
  • Naïve (adj) = Innocent (अनुभवहीन) 
  • Incompetent (adj) = Unprofessional (अक्षम) 
  • Meddle (verb) = Interfere (हस्तक्षेप करना) 
  • Manoeuver (verb) = Move skillfully or carefully (पैंतरेबाज़ी करना) 
  • Vaunt (verb) = Boast about or praise,

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