Is a tax-funded monopoly? Why I would say yes

Posted: March 2nd, 2013  Author:   2 Comments »

On Valentine’s Day 14th February 2013 – of all days – I was invited to give a talk to present our views and experiences of working with the crime data at a day-long seminar hosted by the Open Data Institute and funded by SOCIAM of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. The discussion was called, “Open Data Comes to Market: The Mysterious Case of the Disappearing Crime Apps” to answer the central question about why so few developers have used the crime data and seem to be in decline?

It’s pretty obvious to me – is a monopoly that enjoys first use and access to the data and they are consistently raising the commercial barriers to entry without thought of the consequences to the downstream market. So next time you hear a coalition politician eulogising the “popularity” of – ask them if they can define the difference between popularity and a monopolistic lack of competitive choice?

It reminds me of an Icelandic colleague I knew years ago in my Luxembourg banking days who told me that in the 70s and 80s, Iceland had only one TV channel that broadcasted a few hours a day and not even every day. So would you call that one TV channel “popular” or just all that you could look at?

No wonder Iceland had such a high suicide rate !

Indeed, why stop there – would the Home Office call the North Korean Communist Party popular too because of it’s high membership in the North Korean populace, more than the Labour, LibDem and Conservative parties combined in a country with a fraction of the population?

Joking aside, the serious point is this; whenever a government-funded website using data has as lot of hits, at not insubstantial cost to the taxpayer and long-term downstream market damage, it has failed to get involved 3rd party developers to do their work for them for free. So at what point should government intervene to develop or release data or do both?

As I argued in this powerpoint, the Home Office appears to be deeply confused and conflicted on this core point and they should only do the second which is to release data.

I’ve complained about this before, most notably here and numerous times to the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice, the Crime and Justice Sector Transparency Panel (weirdly last minutes from only published from 24th January 2012!) and the Open Data Institute to name but a few.

The lesson is clear – the government is not committed to open data until clear lines are set out that determine what government can and can not do with data in the marketplace in strict accordance with competition law. And Britain’s civil service is severely unaware of competition and equal data access rules which they don’t seem think apply to them.

Anyway, here are my slides from the talk  From Monopoly to a Flourishing, Open Crime Data Environment.  You are of course free to make up your own minds. Comments most welcome. My agenda is a positive one – for open data, including that of crime data to flourish, government has to step back from the marketplace and let a thousand flowers bloom.


Tell Boris Johnson – London Borough Crime Totals are already on UKCrimeStats

Posted: April 2nd, 2012  Author:   No Comments »

They say that imitation is the greatest form of flattery.  So I was mildly amused today to pick up the Evening Standard to find that Boris Johnson’s crime manifesto today pledged to do something we already offer for free !

According to the Evening Standard in the Crime Fighting part of Boris Johnson’s overall plan, he would “Publish monthly crime figures and police numbers for every borough“. Well, you can see monthly crime numbers by borough here and if they do go ahead and publish Borough Force numbers on a monthly basis, we could put that in easily too. Let’s hope they don’t do down the road of yet another tax-funded website like

Another part of the manifesto that did concern me was the pledge to “Develop (a) smartphone crime reporting app“. Why would they spend taxpayers money developing that when they could release the data and developers could not only compete with each other to do a better job, but do it for free at no cost to the taxpayer?

I’m all for our politicians taking an open-minded closer look at what technology can do against crime and inefficiency. But I’d rather not have to keep pointing out that the role of government is to release the data, not develop it and crowd out private sector job creation and tax revenue.

Meanwhile, unless I’m mistaken, Ken Livingstone’s programme meanwhile appears to be devoid of any technology solution.

So on this admittedly very narrow point, I’m not sure who’s better or worse !


Our two entrants for #opendata #geovationchallenge

Posted: March 28th, 2012  Author:   1 Comment »

Scaling-up crowdsourced community participation mashed up with open data can deliver some exciting solutions. So we were delighted to learn by chance about the geovation challenge last week which is supported by the Ordnance Survey as we can leverage what we have learnt and our capabilities from UKCrimeStats. These are brief summaries of our entrants and what we propose to do if we win a prize – feel free to comment, retweet, facebook like etc. on the Geovation website - our 2 ideas are here;

1. BikeSafe App:  - full details here

We believe we could develop an app that would go a long way to reducing and clearing up bike theft using our existing database - based on data, police contacts and smartphone capabilities.

The key is to make it easy to register details for your bike, record your daily journeys and routes, make it very easy to register it as stolen and getting as many people as possible to sign up and in so doing, create a local and national picture that engages all the players, that did not exist before.

We believe that one of the most difficult crimes to solve is bicycle theft because these are relatively low value objects, easy to steal and massively underreported. Officially there were 115,147 bikes stolen in the UK in 2010 but the true figure is closer to more than half a million - as was revealed by Halfords’ research because almost 80% of owners do not report their theft.

However, in order to create the stickiness and sense of community, we believe the value of using the app has to be to record daily commutes and routes used so that cyclists create a (private to view) history of their daily, weekly, yearly mileage.

2. Neighbourhood Action – Crowdsourcing Community Issues – full details here

Neighbourhood Action is a crowd-sourcing web-based platform that aims to significantly increase public participation in reporting local crime and community issues from the bottom up. Our local community depends on us to report issues that we’re unhappy with so that corrective action can be taken – but very few of us are actively doing this so it’s not representative. Neighbourhood Action solves this problem by making it easy to file your issue online in a free to view forum tied specifically to your local Police Team (using the database with 5,000 plus neighbourhoods and Police Neighbourhood Teams), Council and Neighbourhood Watch representatives. The issue can then be voted on (only once per registered user). There would also be an email alert capability to everyone who is signed up to your neighbourhood as soon as a new issue is posted up. The more people participate, the easier it will be for the authorities to recognize and prioritize your issues and allocate adequate time and resources accordingly.



UKCrimeStats – now getting noticed by the Home Office

Posted: May 31st, 2011  Author:   No Comments »

We all like to get noticed for our efforts – unless you’re a criminal of course ! – so we were pleased to come to the attention of the Home Office in a recent press release.

As I said and was quoted;

‘Britain is once again leading the world – this time in opening up public data to developers and none is more important than crime.

It will always be disputed how much crime is an economic or social problem but solving it will always be an information-driven solution.

For most people on a daily basis, crime’s impact is relative, affecting insurance premiums and blighting their area rather than being personal and direct – that’s why when using the public data, we developed a ranking system for streets, neighbourhoods and constituencies to give people a relative idea of risk they didn’t have before.’

Read the full page here on the Home Office website.