The # OpenData gold ... pirates lurking?

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World & Business - Marketing
Friday, 23 March 2012 10:00

The Open Data and reuse of public data: a European market of € 40,000 million

Millions of public data begin to emerge, almost magically, in our cities ... from within the same of our governments and administrations. This is useful information in terms of transparency. But a powerful commercial treasure. The new "gold" called Big Data Open Data and begins to awaken the interest of big business ... but also doubts about our future ability to manage and protect this precious treasure.

The Archivo General de Indias is one of those great sources of information worldwide. Declared a Unesco World Heritage Site, the institution founded by Charles III contains in its 8 linear miles of shelves full four centuries of the history of Spain and America.

Within its walls, physical and virtual bundles containing 43,000 lie, in turn, more than 80 million pages and 8,000 maps and drawings. These funds remain, for example, details the approximate location and exact loading of the Spanish ships wrecked in the ocean somewhere in the course of the centuries, spices, textiles ... and precious metals. Information are accessible to virtually anyone in the world. And they are also a permanent, free and in many cases, through electronic and digital format.

Researchers of all kinds (over 150,000 visits per year) shelled daily those resources in search of a lost treasure literature, a new data on our colonial past to illuminate their studies and their universities ... hunting for new business for clients and companies.

In a way, given its commercial value, this documentary heritage would be a perfect candidate to become one of those "gold mines" of public information to which it alluded few dates Vice President of the European Commission Neelie Kroes . It could be one of those potential Open Data reefs serve companies and institutions and that the Dutch commissioner valued at more than 40,000 million euros.

The adventure, well told, it seems really exciting. In fact, for reasons also social and democratic, are becoming more of them on either side of the planet pressure their governments to publish public data and documents obtained in their custody.

However, all is not gold that glitters. No, at least, anyone who tells us. As with any history of treasures, this ocean blue and pirate ships also sail other letter of marque : craft bold, fast and innovative unmanned by citizens and aspire one day to take complete control of our data.

The company Odyssey Marine Exploration may be one of them. Listed on the NYSE, the American company chaired by Greg Stemm (former delegate of his country in the Unesco) scrutinized for years, without any limitation, the Archivo General de Indias. Their sole mission: to locate accurately and be done with more than 500,000 pieces of gold and silver from the frigate Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes , sunk in the early nineteenth century.

The frigate Mercedes is achieved in Santa Barbara on October 5, 1804

The rest of it is already known. The Supreme Court of the United States confirmed in early 2012 that stole the booty taken from the frigate, thanks to information gleaned freely from the old Casa Lonja of Seville - should be returned to the Spanish State. Gone was a lengthy legal process started in 2007 and faced the interest of all a country with a company that, even today, is defined as a strong supporter of archaeological and underwater world.

The case of the "Odyssey" and the Archivo General de Indias is surely a mere anecdote as opposed to the universe of the expected benefits of Open Data. Yet, situations "simple" as narrated reproduce or can be produced daily in the future that lies ahead and loaded with data, data and more data.

In light of this, could draw two great dangers on the horizon of openness and reuse of public sector information in the world and our continent:

1) Deviation of "general interest"

David Eaves ( The Challenge of Open Data and Metrics ) and Mike Gurnstein ( Open Data: Empowering the Empowered or Effective Data Use for Everyone ) warned long ago of some cases where information had been used ...

  • decontextualized or interested manner (for example, in some comparisons of official centers with their "competing" organizations). A controversial case, in this sense, is the emerged with the publication in New York of evaluations of public school teachers without contrasting them with other references and tables of results, as the notes of their private counterparts-;
  • "Overqualified", away from the knowledge and digital skills of a large number of citizens (which, as in the case of Bangalore -India-can consolidate the privileges of a qualified minority).

2) Vulnerability

If we were in good international economic outlook described by Professor Josep Fontana ( Beyond the Crisis ), where the government and companies swamped by the crisis are almost balance, at the foot of the large pools of investment, what how to offer these the very heart of our public services and government, ie, our data?

  • The risk of privatization "concealed". The Big Data that are beginning to pick up our cities, thanks to a growing institutional commitment, can be, for example, an opportunity from the standpoint of energy and environmental. But ... is there a consensus on their release under conditions of free and transparent? Unlike the data "customary", is accepting the transfer of public information generated in the new Smart Cities to large commercial operators in exchange for the local economy of debt relief?
  • The threat of trade dependence. Specifically, despite the strength of some domestic industries, the position of the United States and United Kingdom is certainly remarkable, there is a risk that large parts of the world see their role limited to mere international providers of information while transnational powers have a monopoly "in fact" from the processing and commercial exploitation. Experience in other subsectors technology has been different so far.

Given these threats, it would be necessary for governments around the world move ahead with the harmonization of public information market, with more uniform rules and common tools much more precise. In Europe, the revision of Directive 2003/98/EC or civic campaign in favor of a single license reuse of data are important steps but not definitive.

It is necessary, above all, the need for a great deal, as succinctly locally recommended Julia Glidden ( Open Data: gold mine gold or bust ) -. But not only between governments. Also with industry and civil organizations. The purpose? Create a strategic roadmap set to rapidly increase muscle and technological, economic and social development of Open Data.

Sums Alex Howard ( Data for Public Good ) and explained in Spanish Mauritius Dolphin ( The Promise of Open Data and the current ambiguity of the concept of "open government" ):

"Making data accessible is not enough ... the use of data for the public good depends on a distributed community of media, nonprofit organizations, academic institutions and civil society activists."

It would be necessary, therefore, what Tim Davies ( 5-Stars of Open Engagement data? ) proposes in the world of little things: more links with the producers, the plaintiffs and the "mediators" of information, in line with the first steps in France Dataconnexions , sponsored by the Executive of that country.

What is at stake is more than all the treasure deep in our oceans ( three million wrecks ) ... more than the 12,800 tons of gold and silver dipped against the Spanish coast and documented by funds such as the Archivo General de Indias ... more than 40,000 million euros in the EU. We played the real reason for the Open Data: a more prosperous and fairer. Not only for Europe.