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Gov'ts Hoarding Data Lose Out On Potential Revenue

BY Jessica McKenzie | Tuesday, January 21 2014

Screenshot of the gRoads Global Map

Open data is all the rage these days, but many governments are still reluctant to release geospatial data, perhaps because of the impulse to try and recoup some of the high costs of collecting it. However, experts say that this is stifling innovation and damming potential revenue streams.

“They see it as a valuable commodity that they can make some money from, but, quite frankly, open [data] policies are much more economically generative than closed ones,” Paul Uhlir, the director of the board on research data and information at the US National Academy of Sciences, told SciDev.Net. “By hoarding the data they’re minimising [sic] massively its value for other uses and shooting themselves in the foot.”

Alex de Sherbinin, a chair at the International Council for Science's Committee on Data for Science Technology (CODATA), called the urge to hoard data, because data is power, a “twentieth century mentality.”

At a meeting of the Group on Earth Observations in Geneva, Switzerland, last week, government and international organizations shared open geospatial data projects. One such project is an open-access data set of road infrastructure, gathered by CODATA, called gRoads.

Although Ulrir calls developing nations out for being “uncooperative” when it comes to opening up geospatial data, rich and developed countries are guilty of it as well.

In the wake of Super-typhoon Haiyan in November, the Red Cross used maps produced by the crowdsourced OpenStreetMap platform. They requested satellite images of the Philippines post-typhoon, but the U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency dragged their feet, at first only providing coordinates of the worst-hit areas. According to this press release, they did eventually supply “analysis and damage assessments” to help with disaster relief.

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