G8 nations embrace open data, investigators look at Google


G8 nations have released a new open data charter. The Group of 8 Nations (G8) includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, UK and the US with a representative from the EU. All nations agreed to the charter which attempts to set up an “open data by default” policy. Much of the charter reflects themes already outlined in President Obama’s recent open data Executive Order. However, some of the items notably vague.

In the charter, governments agree to release datasets that are usable by all, and include data for improved governance and data for innovation. While a sound first step, there is no specific mention of high value data like budget items. One could easily see government workers opting to “improve governance,” through the release of more wellness surveys as we recently saw in Somerville. We are also left to wonder just how much of this innovation will come in still more releases of transit times and pothole maps, over public health and safety data.

In the best practices section of the charter, signatories do outline high value datasets including national maps, statistics, elections data and national budgets, and say they will be “available and discoverable,” this year, with more granularity through the end of the year. Little information beyond that was included and much of this high level information is already available.

The White House policy does stake out a more pronounced stance on high value datasets. Although it will still be up to governments at state, county and municipal levels to adopt and comply with these principles.

Still, the charter itself is a hopeful move. The charter requires full implementation by 2015, with a progress check outlined for next year. Civic minded translators may find a wealth of opportunity here has the charter makes no requirement that data be translated in languages other than that of its home country.

On the heels of this announcement, France has also given Google three months to provide an accounting of how the company uses the personal information of its account holders. The company faces fines if sufficient information is not provided, and adds France to a growing list of European companies investigating Google for privacy issues.

The French National Commission on Computing and Freedom (CNIL) has said that Spain is joining with them on this action and Britain, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands will also join in the investigation soon. The fines for noncompliance will be relatively small, €300,000 in France. However, the other countries will also stake out claims of their own.

For one of the largest companies in the world and largest collectors of personal data, Google remains generally opaque on how it uses that data. CivSource previously reported on questions surrounding Google’s privacy disclosures with its US government clients. Given recent revelations around government security in the US, and international investigations, companies like Google may feel more pressure to open up. Spokespeople for Google in both stories said they respect local privacy laws.