Global Pulse is a new initiative by the United Nations to leverage data from the consumer Internet for global development. So-called sentiment analysis of messages in social networks and phone text messages - - using natural language deciphering software - - can help predict job losses or lower spending in a region, or disease outbreaks.
For example, in parts of Africa, cellphones serve as the ATM, with text messages initiating money transfers. These messages can also serve as an early warning system. When savings transfers drop to 50 cents or zero from $10 a month - - the digital world can provide evidence that something is happening in the physical world.
Global Pulse, began in late 2009, is conducting research and trying to forge partnerships with private companies. To really succeed, the program needs the cooperation of Internet companies and cellphone carries to give it access to social network and text-message communications, which would be stripped of any personally identifying information.