What is Open Data?

The term Open Data refers to data that is accessible to anyone to use, redistribute, or republish without major restrictions such as copyrights or patents. The idea is that shared data allows for the flow and sharing of information to create new products, tailor services and increase the transparency of governments. This is of particular interest in data rich fields such as science, weather, and health care. Government data is also an important source of information. The growth of the Internet has allowed this concept to put into practical use by providing an easy way to share and exchange data.

What Makes Data Open?

In order for data to be declared open, it must meet certain criteria. The data must be available and easily accessible to everyone, for example by downloading off of the Internet. It must be in a format that is readable by a computer. To be considered open, data must be accessible without any fees or the purchase of additional software. It must be available to be used and redistributed without special licenses. Finally, for data to be considered open, it must be able to be used for any purpose. There can be no restrictions that it can only be used for certain purposes, like education for example. Open data can require reasonable conditions such as that the data must be attributed to its contributors or that modified data must be renamed or given a new version number.

What are the Advantages?

One of the basic principles behind opening data is that data that is collected at the public’s expense, which most data is, should be available to the public. The advantages of public access to data are many. Sharing data can be helpful in developing targeted products and helping communities. Data on mortgage transactions, for example, can highlight housing discrimination. Data on college admissions and funding can help students make informed decisions about the value of their education. Government released data, such as that available on data.gov, can help educate citizens on how their tax dollars are used and increase government accountability. Opening data can help communities run more efficiently.

Are There Problems with Opening Data?

Free exchange of data has many advantages but there are some concerns. Raw data released to the public may do more harm than good. If the data is not in an easily understandable format, the data could essentially be only open to those with the skills to understand it. Data in this form could be used to manipulate those without the skills or education to fully understand the data. There are also privacy concerns. There is not always a consistent level of security with data and some data, such as mortgage statistics for example, could cause sensitive information to be made public.

With the increased prevalence of the Internet, data is bound to become more readily available. Making data easily accessible increases the knowledge available to the general population allowing for greater transparency and informed citizens. Open Data standards will ensure that data is accessible, available and free for everyone.

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