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World Bank Announces Its Crowdsourced Map Data Will Be Free for the Crowd

BY Nick Judd | Friday, March 30 2012

After activists raised questions about a deal the World Bank announced earlier this year with Google, the organization has announced that if it collects mapping data from everyday people, those data will be free and open to access:

Through trial and error, we have learned that open and equitable access to maps is critical not only for crisis response but also for innovation and longer-term development.

For this reason, the World Bank only supports citizen-mapping efforts that give users free access to the map data they create. While citizens are free to choose the projects and tools that best meet their goals, our guiding principle is simple: if the public helps to collect or create map data, the public should be able to access, use and re-use that data freely.

In February I reported on a deal announed by the World Bank and Google in January that seemed to mean Google's Map Maker tool, which allows for members of the public to add things like the locations of schools or hospitals to Google's maps, would be put to use as part of World Bank crowdsourcing programs in the developing world.

A World Bank press release announcing the deal specifically referenced Map Maker.

"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 release read in part.

Data submitted through Map Maker comes with terms of service that include passing to Google a cut of any fee charged to access a web app using that data and a restriction that, barring special circumstances, the data can only be used through the Maps API.

Open source advocates say those terms would preclude using non-Google platforms that compete with Google services, like OpenStreetMap. It seemed to folks like Ushahidi's Patrick Meier that the World Bank was asking people in the developing world to give Google data about their countries and their local areas that Google could then profit from, and, in some cases — such as if an entrepreneur in the developing world wanted to use that data as part of a fee-based service — even charge them a fee to use. At a Google-World bank "Mapathon" last year, for example, members of the South Sudanese diaspora living near Washington, D.C. were asked to volunteer data about their home country for Google Maps. Their data became publicly available, but with few exceptions, only through Maps and the Maps API.

The World Bank, which had previously made sweeping commitments to releasing more of its data for independent researchers, entrepreneurs and others to use, has been conferring with open data and mapping advocates since the deal was announced. In a March 19 announcement, World Bank Director of Innovation and Change Management Randi Ryterman wrote that the Google deal specifically would not lead to that kind of scenario.

"As we’ve stated before ... our agreement does not extend to supporting new citizen mapping activities or data creation through the Google Map Maker platform," she wrote. "Therefore, when it comes to creating map data, we will work with a variety of other mapping platforms consistent with our development objectives, terms of use and guiding principles around open data."

Activists met this announcement with applause.

"The @WorldBank has consistently been a leader in supporting open data & open source efforts," Noel Dickover, who co-founded Crisis Commons, said on Twitter. "Great to see them continue w/mapping - Bravo!"

(h/t Noel Dickover)