Personal Democracy Plus Our premium content network. LEARN MORE You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

Does a Google-World Bank Deal On Crowdsourcing Ask Too Much of the Crowd?

BY Nick Judd | Thursday, February 2 2012

Should the commons improve Google's data on the developing world? Photo: ToastyKen

A World Bank representative will meet with global transparency advocates and digital mapmakers to discuss a controversial geodata deal with Google it announced in mid-January, according to an official at the bank.

Aleem Walji, practice manager of the World Bank's innovation practice, said Thursday that he would be sitting down with people from Global Integrity, the anticorruption organization, and the open-source mapping group OpenStreetMap to discuss a partnership between the bank and Google that would see the search giant's Google Map Maker tool put to use in developing countries.

The World Bank announced that country offices in Kenya, South Sudan, Tanzania, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Zambia, Nigeria, DRC, Moldova, Mozambique, Nepal and Haiti will all pilot the Google-World Bank agreement.

Map Maker is a tool that allows anyone to submit improvements to the maps and geospatial data that Google has in its database by adding the locations of things like schools and hospitals to datasets that can already be used to build detailed digital mashups of roads, demographic data, and physical terrain. The partnership gives the World Bank and a list of partner organizations, including U.N. agencies, access to the underlying geospatial data in Google's possession — a boon in countries where reliable and comprehensive digital maps are difficult to come by, says Walji, who was head of global development initiatives at Google before joining the World Bank.

But the move concerns activists who rely on freely available mapping data for international development or in crisis situations because Google's terms of service still apply as normal to all the volunteers and small groups outside of the agreement. Under those terms, data submitted through Map Maker cannot be used for profit without paying a fee to Google, and cannot be displayed on non-Google platforms that compete with Google services, like OpenStreetMap. The World Bank has also collaborated with OpenStreetMap in the past.

"Through this tool, citizens are able to directly participate in the creation of maps by contributing their local knowledge, and those additions are then reflected on Google Maps and Google Earth," the World Bank announced Jan. 16.

"These maps include locations like schools, hospitals, roads and water points that are critical for relief workers to know about in times of crisis, and will help NGOs, researchers, and individual citizens to more effectively identify areas that might be in need of assistance."

The deal is "nonexclusive," World Bank officials have repeatedly said, meaning that data input into Google databases could also be given to similar organizations like OpenStreetMap. It's just unclear exactly how that would happen if the use of Map Maker, which is as much a data input tool as it is a set of geospatial data, is a key part of the agreement.

"You're now asking the crowd to do something for somebody else's profit rather than for the commons," said Noel Dickover, who co-founded Crisis Commons, "and you don't allow small businesses to leverage that."

What's more, Dickover said, the restrictive terms of service would create impediments to use in a crisis situation. Map Maker data on schools and hospitals couldn't be deployed in OpenStreetMap — unless a big institution that was party to the agreement, like a UN agency or a government, got involved.

"If innovation needs to happen in a crisis," Dickover asked, "do you really want lawyers to agree before it can?"

The deal concerns Ushahidi's director of crisis mapping, Patrick Meier, because it seemed to be taking a resource — valuable information — from developing countries without giving people in those places a chance to benefit from it. Ushahidi is an open-source platform for crowdsourcing, vetting and then mapping incident reports, and was a notable part of efforts to understand the scope of the Haiti earthquake in 2010.

"I worry that Google will organize more crowdsourced mapping projects (like the one they did for Sudan last year), and use people with local knowledge to improve Map Maker data," Meier wrote in a blog post on Sunday. "Does this really empower citizen cartographers? Or is this about using citizen cartographers (as free labor?) for commercial purposes?"

Google spokeswoman Deanna Yick says that the company is "actively exploring ways to expand our ability to share useful map data." The data in Map Maker is also available through Google Earth, Google Maps, and the Maps API.

This is the type of concern Walji says he will be hashing out in person. The partnership with Google was perplexing to open-source mapping advocates in part because the World Bank has in recent years made a commitment to opening its vast trove of information. Last year, it made a commitment to releasing its data about the developing world, from health to finance and everything in between, online, in machine-readable format, without restriction. This commitment would support and facilitate independent support efforts and entrepreneurship around the world, which are, after all, part of what the World Bank is supposed to be all about. It's also aimed at increasing transparency about projects funded by the World Bank, which, through the Open Aid Partnership, is encouraging other major donors to map where their money goes, too.

Walji says the World Bank's approach to information and data sharing has not changed.

"Where the World Bank collects data directly from citizens, we are committed to open data," Walji told me Thursday. "We have done that in the past and we will continue to do that in the future."

The bank, he added, is hoping to release an open geospatial data catalog that would free up even more of its data to the world.

This post has been corrected. It's Open Aid Partnership, not Open Aid Project.

News Briefs

RSS Feed today >

Civic Hackers Call on de Blasio to Fill Technology Vacancies

New York City technology advocates on Wednesday called on the de Blasio administration to fill vacancies in top technology policy positions, expressing some frustration at the lack of a leadership team to implement a cohesive technology strategy for the city. GO

China's Porn Purge Has Only Just Begun, And Already Sina Is Stripped of Publication License

It seems that China is taking spring cleaning pretty seriously. On April 13 they launched their most recent online purge, “Cleaning the Web 2014,” which will run until November. The goal is to rid China's Internet of pornographic text, pictures, video, and ads in order to “create a healthy cyberspace.” More than 100 websites and thousands of social media accounts have already been closed, after less than a month. Today the official Xinhua news agency reported that the authorities have stripped the Internet giant Sina (of Sina Weibo, the popular microblogging site) of its online publication license. This crackdown on porn comes on the heels of a crackdown on “rumors.” Clearly, this spring cleaning isn't about pornography, it's about censorship and control.

GO

wednesday >

Another Co-Opted Hashtag: #MustSeeIran

The Twitter hashtag #MustSeeIran was created to showcase Iran's architecture, landscapes, and would-be tourist destinations. It was then co-opted by activists to bring attention to human rights abuses and infringements. Now Twitter is home to two starkly different portraits of a country. GO

What Has the EU Ever Done For Us?: Countering Euroskepticism with Viral Videos and Monty Python

Ahead of the May 25 European Elections, the most intense campaigning may not be by the candidates or the political parties. Instead, some of the most passionate campaigns are more grassroots efforts focused on for a start stirring up the interest of the European electorate. GO

At NETmundial Brazil: Is "Multistakeholderism" Good for the Internet?

Today and tomorrow Brazil is hosting NETmundial, a global multi-stakeholder meeting on the future of Internet governance. GO

Brazilian President Signs Internet Bill of Rights Into Law at NetMundial

Earlier today Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff sanctioned Marco Civil, also called the Internet bill of rights, during the global Internet governance event, NetMundial, in Brazil.

GO

tuesday >

Ruck.us Reboots As a Candidate Digital Toolkit That's a Bit Too Like Democracy.com

Ruck.us launched with big ambitions and star appeal, hoping to crack the code on how to get millions of people to pool their political passions through their platform. When that ambition stalled, its founder Nathan Daschle--son of the former Senator--decided to pivot to offering political candidates an easy-to-use free web platform for organizing and fundraising. Now the new Ruck.us is out from stealth mode, entering a field already being served by competitors like NationBuilder, Salsa Labs and Democracy.com. And strangely enough, Ruck.us seems to want its early users to ask Democracy.com for help. GO

Armenian Legislators: You Can Be As Anonymous on the 'Net As You Like—Until You Can't

A proposed bill in Armenia would make it illegal for media outlets to include defamatory remarks by anonymous or fake sources, and require sites to remove libelous comments within 12 hours unless they identify the author.

GO

monday >

The Good Wife Looks for the Next Snowden and Outwits the NSA

Even as the real Edward Snowden faces questions over his motives in Russia, another side of his legacy played out for the over nine million viewers of last night's The Good Wife, which concluded its season long storyline exploring NSA surveillance. In the episode titled All Tapped Out, one young NSA worker's legal concerns lead him to becoming a whistle-blower, setting off a chain of events that allows the main character, lawyer Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), and her husband, Illinois Governor Peter Florrick (Chris Noth), to turn the tables on the NSA using its own methods. GO

The Expanding Reach of China's Crowdsourced Environmental Monitoring Site, Danger Maps

Last week billionaire businessman Jack Ma, founder of the e-commerce company Alibaba, appealed to his “500 million-strong army” of consumers to help monitor water quality in China. Inexpensive testing kits sold through his company can be used to measure pH, phosphates, ammonia, and heavy metal levels, and then the data can be uploaded via smartphone to the environmental monitoring site Danger Maps. Although the initiative will push the Chinese authorities' tolerance for civic engagement and activism, Ethan Zuckerman has high hopes for “monitorial citizenship” in China.

GO

The 13 Worst Bits of Russia's Current and Maybe Future Internet Legislation

It appears that Russia is on the brink of passing still more repressive Internet regulations. A new telecommunications bill that would require popular blogs—those with 3,000 or more visits a day—to join a government registry and conform to government-mandated standards is expected to pass this week. What follows is a list of the worst bits of both proposed and existing Russian Internet law. Let us know in the comments or on Twitter if we missed anything.

GO

More