30 November 2009

Freeing Public Data

(Google European Public Policy Blog)
The value of open access to publicly funded data extends far beyond geographical or transport-related information. In the Netherlands, for example, we've combined freely available Central Statistics Bureau and European Central Bank information with search trends data to create a barometer for consumer confidence in a variety of industry sectors. And the combination of publicly funded epidemiological data sources with aggregated search query data has enabled us to launch the cutting edge Flu Trends product predicting the spread of an epidemic in 20 countries. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to get access to this information required to develop such cool, innovative and useful, services. Despite being public, open access to this data is not automatic, and complex licence agreements remain de rigueur. The good news is that the European Union understands the potential for innovation and economic growth that easy access to publicly funded information could unlock. It was also encouraging last week to see the UK government taking an important unilateral first step towards freeing public data: from April next year, a good number of the UK's Ordnance Survey maps will become freely available - and re-usable - online. This represents an important victory for the Guardian newspaper's laudable "Free Our Data" campaign which has been running for the last three years.