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Open Data Campaign – closing the data divide

 

 

 

“Data should be as open as possible and as closed as necessary.

Jeremy Rollison, Senior Director for EU Government Affairs at Microsoft EU

 

European Digital Strategy

Around the world, data is playing an increasingly important role. As digital technologies become increasingly integrated into citizens’ life, humanity is generating more data than ever before. A study conducted by IBM Marketing Cloud found that over 90% of the data available on the internet was created since 2016 1. This means that stakeholders such as government bodies and businesses have access to an ever-increasing amount of information that can contribute to the development of goods and services and can tailor them to meet citizens' needs accordingly.

However, if this available data remains closed and untapped, then humanity will head further into what Microsoft has called a ‘data divide’ – a situation where data is concentrated in the hands of a small number of companies. To combat this, institutions such as the European Commission are looking at how best to facilitate citizens’ access to, and the (re-)use of, data. To this end, in February 2020 the Commission launched “A European strategy for data” and ran an open public consultation on the European strategy for data until 31 May 2020 2. This was followed up by the European Data Governance Act, a proposal that aims to foster the availability of data for use by increasing trust in data intermediaries and by strengthening data sharing mechanisms across Europe. Next to this work, companies have been investigating how they can also facilitate the opening and sharing of data.

Open Data Campaign

In April 2020, Microsoft launched its Open Data Campaign – “Closing the Data Divide: the Need for Open Data”. The initiative aims to help close the data divide and to empower organisations in realising the benefits of data. This includes opening, sharing, and collaborating around data to support the decision-making process, to improve efficiency, and to tackle societal challenges across the world such as climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.

To achieve this ambition, the initiative focuses on data and artificial intelligence (AI) to build an open and trusted data ecosystem for all involved stakeholders, such as private citizens, government bodies, entrepreneurs, small- and medium-sized enterprises, large international companies, and research institutions. By building an open and trusted data ecosystem, the Open Data Campaign aims to advance the discussion on how the world uses and shares data. To learn more about this campaign, the Support Centre for Data Sharing (SCDS) team spoke with Jeremy Rollison, a Senior Director for EU Government Affairs at Microsoft EU.

Barriers to opening data and its solutions

Organisations are often reluctant to share data for several reasons. One of those reasons is competition concern. Traditionally, code that is created by organisations such as Microsoft and their competitors have been closed. However, in recent years, more and more companies are publishing this as open source, that sometimes – admittedly – produce better quality code. Although opening code to outside contributors raises the fear of monetisation, most open-source companies have come out as very successful.

Another barrier is the legal difficulty often involved in sharing data. One of the examples that Jeremy mentions in the interview is the scenario of start-ups who get enthusiastic about a new idea and have just identified the main data sources necessary. When their legal department becomes involved, the project often slows down tremendously as it is unclear:

  • If the data is permitted to be accessed and shared?
  • For which purposes the data can be used?
  • Who the owner of the data and the IP is?
  • In a cross-border context: what the legal framework in place is?

These uncertainties slow down the process and sometimes make it impossible to continue the project. 

Apart from these concerns, privacy issues also affect the practice of sharing data, especially when personal data is involved. An example of a project currently part of the Microsoft Open Data Campaign is the London traffic passenger data, where there is a risk of dealing with sensitive information. As the data that is collected and published is in an aggregate format, it becomes impossible to link data back to an individual person, invalidating the privacy concern altogether.

As discussed, when it comes to sharing data, companies tend to be hesitant for reasons of competition, lack of knowledge, or privacy. However, the initiative put forward by Microsoft aims to increase data access and help data sharing to allow for continuous growth, development and improvement. Microsoft is, in that sense, a “toolbox for players to use to improve their own systems and datasets” and Jeremy expresses the view that by sharing knowledge, best practices, and learning from others, the entire ecosystem can benefit.

Future of Open Data Campaign

When asked “Where do you see this project in 10 years from now?”, Jeremy stated that the vision for the Open Data Campaign is a long-term one. As technology advances and artificial intelligence (AI) applications continue to emerge, the future will look very optimistic. With increasingly high demands for the data to run, inform and populate those (AI) services, people will realise that, on their own, they do not have enough data to remain successful. Furthermore, although it can be hard to initially relinquish access to data, as people realise it is a give-and-take where all parties benefit, the mindset will gradually shift. Ultimately, companies and organisations will be able to be able to create better products and services, be more economically successful, and establish and maintain better relationships with one another as they continue to learn and move forwards through data sharing.

Name 

Microsoft 

Sector 

Technology and Information

Region 

Global 

Countries 

Global 

Time 

2020 - ongoing 

URL 

https://news.microsoft.com/opendata/

Business model  

Government-to-Business, Business-to-Business, Business-to-Government 

Participants 

Government bodies, small- and medium-sized enterprises, large companies, research institutions, entrepreneurs 

Type of organisation 

Any

Data sharing model(s)  

Any

Core impact  

Close the data divide and to empower organisations to realise the benefits of data by opening, sharing, and collaborating around data.

Context 

A large amount of data is concentrated in the hands of a small number of companies. If this data remains closed and untapped, then humanity will head further into a ‘data divide’ and the full potential of data cannot be realised.


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