Archive for the 'Sunday Essay' Category

Should Canadian governments free our data?

Just watched Tim Berners-Lee speaking about linked data at the TED conference. It’s worth 15 minutes of your time.

The question it leaves me with? Should Canadian governments be making data freely available and easily accessible for anyone who chooses to use it? I’ll give you two examples.

geo_edmonton

Edmonton has a wonderful consortium that collects and manages all the geo-spatial data for the city.  It’s a world class operation and – somewhat surprisingly given how sensible it is – a very unusual approach.  In most cities there is a tremendous amout of duplicated effort.  So GeoEdmonton is to be congratulated for its accomplishment.

They make this data available to consortium partners and online – in viewable formats.  And I’m sure you can make commercial atrangements to get access to the complete data set.  But they could take it one step forward and make it freely available through a programmatic interface.

You can’t really be-grudge them for wanting to charge for the data – it does have substantial value.  So, the argument for making it freely available is that the resulting innovations will lead to an even greater benefit to society as a whole.

And here’s another example:

Environment Canada makes weather data available in a variety of formats.  But, if I wanted to use this data in a broad and sophisitcated way I’d have to enter in to some sort of licensing arrangement with them.  Why not just provide an interfaces that lets people use what they want when they want it?  That would unleash true innovation.

There is of course, a reasonable argument that charging people to use the data on a ‘pay per use’ basis is fair game.  Since many of these users will themselves realize significant commercial benefit from using the data.  But the barriers required to negotiate and pay for such data stifles innovation.  Set it free and society will reap the greater rewards of this innovation.

Apple AppStore

Want proof?  Look at the iPhone.  Or more accurately, look at the AppStore.

Prior to the iPhone, wireless carriers exercised stringent controls on who was able to deploy applications to mobile devices.  It wasn’t impossible, but it was sufficiently difficult that only those with sufficient perserverence or financial resources persisted.  As a result, there were few applications and limited adoption by users.

Now?  There are more than 25,000 applications in the iPhone store and more than 1 billion applications have been downloaded.  Why?  Because a person in a garage can easily develop and deploy an application.

Freeing data will allow for similar innovation.

Leave a comment if you have some thoughts on the subject.

Thanks,
Eric

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Who owns my click stream?

The data we leave behind when using online and mobile services has great value because it can be analyzed to create a comprehensive profile about me.  Such a profile that can be used to give me recommendations — and target relevant advertising to me.  The prospects are both exciting and potentially alarming.

But I wonder — is the collective log of my activities really MY data and should I have more control over what (if anything) is done with it?

What Them Know About Me

Search engines track my searches. Phone companies track my phone calls. Google track my emails. Apple tracks my music listening and purchases. Amazon tracks my book purchases. Linked In knows where I’ve worked, who I’ve worked with and who I know.

Taken together – these crumbs and the crumbs I leave behind in many other places – provide a remarkably comprehensive picture of who I am and what I am doing.

What They Do With It

Their Terms of Service make it clear they own this usage data, but they’ll protect it and not abuse it. And in some cases, they even given me some control over it.

And in general, the convention is that they can use it to serve me better – Amazon recommends books to me and Apple recommends music to me.

And they can use it to deliver advertising to me.  So, Google uses what it ‘reads’ in my email to present me with advertising – sometimes to humorous effect.

But, I don’t think I’ve given them permission to use what they’ve learned about me in one place to serve me somewhere else.  Having said that, there are important and notable exceptions to this: cookies dropped all over the place by advertising platforms being one culprit.  And we don’t really know how much sharing their is among services who have the same corporate owner.

But What’s Possible?

There is a lot more that COULD be done if all my data was consolidated in to a single comprehensive picture.  But, I don’t think people are ready for this.  My conversations with friends ‘outside’ the business, suggest that most people are oblivious to how much data is already being collected.  They are alarmed when I tell them.

So, no, I don’t really want my data being shared and consolidated in some willy-nilly fashion.  Nor do I want these decisions being made behind the closed doors of corporate giants on the basis of services they own or agreements they’ve struck with others.

Instead, I’d like to see this dealt with in a transparent way.

Personally, I think it’s my click-stream.  So, I’d like to have access to it and control over how it gets used.  I WANT to be able to authorize trusted services to use it in specific ways.

We’re headed in to interesting times.