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Open Data – how far do we go?

Technology has now woven itself in to our daily lives to such an extent that we cannot imagine how we ever lived without its features and relevant products as we do today.
At the heart of this huge technological transition is data: commercial and personal data which we all have nightmares about people trying to access or gaining control of.
Conversely, we are all rightly concerned about what data is captured about us but we are very open to reward for sharing it with organisations we trust such as supermarkets and other loyalty purchasing schemes.

Open data is the idea that certain data should be freely available to everyone to use and republish as they wish, without restrictions from copyright, patents or other mechanisms of control.
The goals of the open data movement are similar to those of other “Open” movements such as open sourceopen hardwareopen content, and open access.
Why then does the very topic of open data cause such consternation and alarm? Open data is seemingly all about enabling everyone to access information to use for the greater good, but unfortunately the definition of its use will always appease and infuriate the populous in equal measures.

No area is this ‘sharing’ of open data more prevalent than in the medical world. You share your data with your doctor so that they can have a record of your medical history and thus better diagnose and/or treat you as a patient but would you go a step further and share your personal medical data with academic or professional institutions for research purposes to help society combat disease?

The power of open data is clear with Wikipedia one of the largest and most used proponents of it.
Its well known that they don’t pay their editors but still people have built the most amazing repository of human knowledge. I use it so often without ever thinking of how else I would so easily find access to the rich seams of data that it serves up and briefly thinking about it not being available is daunting but it does make you ponder further about the merits of open data.

With the next transition of technology opening up the so-called ‘internet of things’ the amount of captured data is only going to increase exponentially and if its going to fulfil its world-changing potential the need to aggregate and share that data is clear.
Will the lure of what we gain through its various services and features loosen our ties to the data we share to achieve them?

I think we all agree that there should be a degree of open data and we are happy to add elements of our ‘personal’ data into the pool but there needs to be controls in place where we can view exactly what is available and legal recourse to remedy any subsequent issues.
Getting these standards and processes in place and adhered to globally is the most difficult part of this whole issue, and crucially the knitting that binds it all together.
It won’t happen overnight and how far we go with open data is up for debate but the most critical point is that it must not be at the expense of social freedom.

This post has also been featured on the HP Business Value Exchange here