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

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.

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