[LINK] itNews: 'Google slams states over tight grip on data'

Roger Clarke Roger.Clarke at xamax.com.au
Thu Nov 17 08:25:23 AEDT 2011

[Comments embedded.]

Google slams states over tight grip on data
John Hilvert
Nov 16, 2011 12:30 PM (19 hours ago)

Requests allegedly rebuffed by Australian state governments.

Google has criticised state and territory government agencies on 
Australia's east coast over their reluctance to make public data 
available for use in the web giant's tools.

Engineering director Alan Noble lashed out at the range of excuses 
that agencies used to bar Google from public transport data.

Speaking at the first Information Policy Conference - convened by the 
Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) in Canberra, 
Noble said that only the Western Australian, South Australia and 
Northern Territory had tipped data into the Google Transit service.

[There's a significant difference between "make public data 
available" and "barring [other organisations and individuals] from 
public transport data", on the one hand, and "tipping data into [one 
particular company's databases]" on the other.

["Making available" requires the enablement of convenient data 
access, together with a copyright licence of an appropriate kind. 
But in order to maintain a level playing-field, there should be no 
agency-determined advantages for one corporation over others, or 
corporations over community associations and individuals.

[The emergency services heart-tugger used by Noble in his speech is a 
special case.  The conventional model would be for one or more 
government agencies to go out to tender for services.  Given the 
rapidity with which new capabilities emerged during the 00'ies, a 
'certificate of expediency' to enable direct dealings by emergency 
services agency/ies with one specific company would have passed 
probity tests.  Google was that company (and several years later, 
probably still is that company).]

He said Google Transit was available in 500 cities around the world.

"We provide this for free. No Government funds are required to get 
this information published on Google maps, yet you would be surprised 
how difficult it is to get this information, from various transit 
departments around Australia," Noble said.

"You would think this is a no-brainer: encouraging people to take 
trains, buses and ferries - why wouldn't you do this?"

Noble said that Google had been in negotiations to get data on 
Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra for "years".

He alleged that monetisation and liability concerns seemed to be the 
main sticking points for the government agencies withholding their 

"There are certain agencies that take the view that if we don't 
publish the information, by definition they are not liable for any 
action," he said.

Noble was not the only speaker that wanted to see freer access to 
government data.

Information Commissioner Professor John McMillan used the conference 
to launch an a white paper on assessing the economic and social value 
to the community of public sector information.

"I am confident that analysis will demonstrate that the benefits of 
open government far outweigh the costs," McMillan said.

"It is widely acknowledged that information is a valuable resource. 
The right information at the right time can expand knowledge, enable 
innovation, boost productivity, and even save lives."

The value of public data

Noble cited the Victorian bushfires in 2009 as an example where 
Google had surfaced public information in a useful, easily-consumable 

The web giant used its maps to denote where fires were raging or 
under control and to offer interactive features that allowed users to 
click on areas for the latest official briefing on hazards.

Noble said this was all public information "but at the time it was not so".

"We at Google made the call that we would actually pull the 
information from some public websites even though the standard 
licenses were not in place at the time. But we decided the public 
benefit outweighed the potential legalistic issues," he said.

Noble said Google's website helped reduce the strain on the official 
which became overloaded.

"We were able to pull the information fed infrequently and not impose 
too much of a load from CFA's website and basically run this map and 
get this running 24x7 on Google's infrastructure," Noble said.

"One thing that Google does well is that we have good infrastructure 
that hundreds of millions of people throughout the world can use."

The service has since evolved into Google Crisis Response, which has 
been used in the Queensland floods and cyclones, the Christchurch 
earthquake, the Tohoku earthquake and Hurricane Irene.

Noble urged Government agencies to consider three rules:
1.   The best time to get public information out is ASAP. "We have a 
preference for raw data not necessarily highly curated data".
2.   Only withhold it if there's a clear imperative to withhold such 
as privacy or security reasons. The bias should be to not withhold; 
3.   Wherever possible make data available free of charge.

Roger Clarke                                 http://www.rogerclarke.com/
Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd      78 Sidaway St, Chapman ACT 2611 AUSTRALIA
                    Tel: +61 2 6288 1472, and 6288 6916
mailto:Roger.Clarke at xamax.com.au                http://www.xamax.com.au/

Visiting Professor in the Cyberspace Law & Policy Centre      Uni of NSW
Visiting Professor in Computer Science    Australian National University

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