Posted by & filed under Business Intelligence, business models, Digital Policy.

Description: GOVERNMENTS have learned a cheap new way to improve people’s lives. Here is the basic recipe:


Date: March 12, 2011

Take data that you and I have already paid a government agency to collect, and post it online in a way that computer programmers can easily use. Then wait a few months. Voilà! The private sector gets busy, creating Web sites and smartphone apps that reformat the information in ways that are helpful to consumers, workers and companies.

Not surprisingly, San Francisco, with its proximity to Silicon Valley, has been a pioneer in these efforts. For some years, Bay Area transit systems had been tracking the locations of their trains and buses via onboard GPS. Then someone got the bright idea to post that information in real time. Thus the delightful app Routesy was born. Install it on a smartphone and the app can tell you that your bus is stuck in traffic and will be 10 minutes late — or it can help you realize that you are standing on the wrong street, dummy. It gives consumers a great new way to find out when and where the bus is coming, and all at minimal government expense. Read rest of story

Questions for discussion:

  • What attributes can make data valuable?
  • Is information that goverments collect   free? Should it be free to all other users of the data? Why or Why not?

32 Responses to “This Data Isn’t Dull. It Improves Lives.”

  1. Brittni Maurer

    Data is always viewed as valuable to someone in some part of the world. It all depends the type of data and what it can be potentially used for. Raw data is available everywhere, but it order to make it useful the private sector transforms in into something useful for the public.
    I think that the release of to much data would give to many people to ability to take advantage of certain situations and In the end having the core provider lose out. Having to pay or have special privilege to the access of data is the way that it should stay.
    I don’t think that the information that the government should be free whether it is or not and I don’t believe that to all users of data it should be free either because there is way to much raw data that the government has that could cause potential harm if the wrong person got their hands on it.

  2. Jenn Oloya

    Many people use information to get information about what they don’t know and what’s going on in different places of the world. In order for data to be valuable the attributes that it must have are creditability (the data must come from a reliable source), relevant (must be information that is happening in now or past information that we can use to make future decisions) and accurate (it must be the right information out there)
    Information that governments collect is not technically free, because we as a society is paying for it one way or another through taxes or other forms and even though the companies can receive the data for “free” from the government sites, they must pay people to put the information online and other expenses will occur like system maintenance and updates. I think that it should be free for all users of the data especially if they are information that will help save lives like the one of the crib.

  3. Landon

    In order for data to be useful it must be accurate and relevant to the issue at hand. Data must also be timely since having data sooner will be better to help solve the problems being looked at. As stated in the article, the government collects data and it is the private companies that make it useful, transforming it into a useful form.

    In a sense the info collected by the governments is free, because it is us who are willing to give the info to them, be it in the form of a census or what not. You could also argue that it isn’t free, for example some info like one’s SIN, you need to pay a fee to get. Some may also say we pay taxes, our taxes fund the government, the government collects info on us, so in a way the info is not free. The sale of info to others, free or not? Hmmm, let me say that I don’t like the sound of info on me being up for sale to others, especially telemarketers and those types, idiots! Depends on the use, info should not be used by the government to make money.

  4. Logan Redman

    Our personal data is used a lot more than we might think. Many, many agencies, companies, corporations, etc have access to our most personal information and use it to their advantage; whether it be to better market their goods or services, help them decide what product to make next, what features to include and so on. I feel that the general public (myself aswell) are very oblivious the the degree of which we are being monitored. One can’t go anywhere or do anything without leaving some sort of electronic or paper trail behind them. The world is small and is shrinking.

  5. bretton macdonald

    We constantly are giving up data whether we know it or not. Whether were filling out a survey or making a purchase, we are giving up data to outside organizations or even the government. This data can be really useful for not only the government and corporations but also to normal people and consumers. Like mentioned in the article some data has been put into apps to tell us bus real time bus schedules and etc….That just makes it that much more convenient for us to go through our busy daily lives. Other ways data can be useful is for us consumers to buy products. When we make a big purchase we can go online and look up the best brand of product that we want to purchase. This has become a reality because of increased transparency of most companies because of government data mining.

  6. Nicole Hendry

    I think that a couple different attributes make data valuable. First, I think that data needs to be relevant to the people it is being directed at. Everyone seeks for information that actually matters to them and that they can use in their lives. I also think that data needs to be accurate, especially in the world today. The internet, magazines and media in general always seem to have information that you have to decide whether it is correct or not. It would be nice to have data that you could rely on for sure to be accurate. I also think that valuable data is timely. Obviously in a lot of cases you need to know what has gone on in the past to change it in the future but how nice would it be if everyone got data about something hazardous to their health fast and in a timely fashion.

    The data that the government is getting is basically free, I mean we as citizens are paying for it. I think that this data should be open to the public to a certain extent. I mean there is a lot of things that are useful to us and that we should have access too but there are also a lot of things that should be kept private. I think it all depends on cost vs. benefits. If the information is something that could have a high potential of harm then it should be kept private. If the information is harmless then everyone should have access to it.

  7. Russ

    Data that is valuable is current, correct, and has some sort of use for the person analyzing it or probably would have been collected in the first place. I really like what has happened through technology and applications and how useful data can be to many individuals. There are many companies who use all types of data in order to boost sales or make sure they have the right things in the right place at the right time. Wal-Mart for example is a company that heavily relies on data to be strategic in business. They use weather data to plan for what merchandise needs to be shipped where. For example, if there was a heavy snowfall going to hit lethbridge Wal-Mart would know about it and would have shipped snow shovels, sidewalk salt, ice scrapers, mittens, snow boots and any other item that people would be looking for in a situation like this. This is valuable data for Wal-Mart.

    As far as the price of data is concerned, I feel that as long as the costs of retrieving the data for its intended use are covered, then it should be free for who ever else desires to view or use it. I know Data collection is not cheap but as long as the basic costs are covered by the intended users i feel everyone else should be able to benefit from it if they have a use for it.

  8. Hugh F

    Valuable data in my mind is anything insight that you want right here and right now, and is available. If you look at time as being money and you think about how much time is spent waiting at bus stops, fiddling around with menus and services and doing anything that could be done yourself if a simple enough layout was presented, that’s value. You don’t want to sound self important and impatient but if you could give yourself even an extra half hour or hour rest time that you saved throughout the day, I’m sure many would gladly adopt whatever system you’re offering.
    Their information isn’t free because there are the various costs with collecting and compiling. Like many costs the government pays for, we won’t see these costs upfront and in numbers (or if we do, often we don’t care), so often the association between personal money and public expenditure is lost.

  9. Taofikat Awopeju

    Most people depends on data to know what is going on for its what they know best. For data to be useful they have to transform raw data into a very useful means of information.
    The Data that government collects is free because we are paying for it one way or the other. The sale of info to others, free or not?taking the telemarketers for example invades people’s privacy. because they get it for free if they have to pay huge amount for it then they will know who to call.

  10. selena759nova

    ■Is information that goverments collect free? Should it be free to all other users of the data? Why or Why not?

    as another commentor mentioned, all data is valuable to somebody. All raw data can be turned into something useful. 10 years ago someone waiting for a late bus might say “i dont need to know where the bus is, i just need to know it’s coming.” but once somebody else decides to turn it into a useful app, that person realizes, “oh i have time to grab breakfast” or “take a cab instead.”
    as far as whether or not the data collected is free, as the “data mining” article says, somebody is always paying for it, not necessarily with money. today, that crib manufacturer would have payed in reputation and poor public relations (leading ultimately to money i guess). ideally only those who SHOULD pay, would. there is good and bad to any technology, and not everybody keeps the same ethics.

  11. Brenda Bicharr

    It is good to hear that Government is now seeing the use of technology as a whole. I am very impressed that Obama has time to look into details of such concern. In regards to shopping better and leading to a better market, i think; absolutely! if people know that there is an obstacle where they plan to go, they will end up saving time and going somewhere else. Also when u plan to buy something, if you visit 2 stores looking for it and you don’t end up finding it you might end up not making the purchase at all. However, if you knew exactly where to find it you would have made the purchase. Thats a good example of how the market could be more effective with this technology.

    And to those who are against it, or should i say complaining about the privacy invasion; there could be a document which would limit the use of this information by the government and the public. But on the flip side stories like the dead children show us that lack of certain information could cost us a lot more than the loss of privacy.

  12. Momah Moseri

    Data or information can never be useless. Somebody somewhere needs that data to work, write a paper or do something with it. A data can be valuable if it is complete, accurate, and credible and the date should be able to be accessed in a meaningful way. Also depending on the kind of information is holds. A data holding vital information about someone’s personal file is very valuable to the person because if that data falls in the wrong hands, it could be bad for the person.
    I don’t think the information that a government collect is free. We as the people pay for whatever the government does one way or another through taxes or even increase in price of gas. Well people do things to make money, making the information free to everybody might not be a good idea because no one would be making profit. However it should be very affordable

  13. Fizi

    These systems are brought in under the auspice of reducing fraud, but they also reduce the risks a bank is willing to take, and it will have sometimes random consequences for credit decisions.

    The consumer will bear the consequences of seemingly arbitrary assessments based on risk profiles. The argument that reduced fraud will bring down costs and savings will be passed to customers is unlikely, since it will serve mostly to polarize customers into very low interest rates on large loans and very high rates on small loans.

    It will rein in some reckless lending, but the primary use of these systems will be to extract a higher interest rate from you, “because the system says so”.

    Notice how banks are asking for your email address? It’s so they can trawl your social network for credit risks and charge you higher rates for for hanging out with losers.

  14. Katie

    In the world today, information is as good as gold. But in order for information to be useful, it has to be accurate, credible, and relevant. If information was available freely to all, it would lose some of its credibility. However, it should be affordable to the people that need it. It is good to see the government step in to regulate this. Nothing in today’s world is free. The same goes for useful information. But it definitely depends on what information is being collected and what it is used for. Many companies and individuals need information and depending on what it is they are looking for, should be able to get it for a reasonable price. With today’s technology, information is being gathered at our every turn. I wouldn’t want information about me being handed out to every Tom, Dick, and Harry.

  15. Dustin

    The information we can get is awesome now a days. But all this information is good and bad. First it must be relevant, If its not information that your looking for it is useless. Also it should be valuable to the people that need it so it might be a good thing if it came with price. That way it holds some value towards the person that wants it. Secondly the information must be accurate. A bad example is Wikipedia. Anyone can go onto the website and write anything the want. Correct or incorrect they can write anything down.
    I think we pay the government through our tax dollars to collect the data. I don’t think the data should be available to anyone. I think a person or organization should have to be properly authorized to get certain types of information. there should be rules for them as in what they are allowed to get and what they are allowed to do with the information they receive,

  16. Derek Wilson

    It makes a sense that data should be gathered and released for the general public to utilize. With the constant growth of technology this data has progressed from being viewed at home via the Web, to being viewed by an individual sitting in a park or waiting for a bus, through efficient Smartphone apps. Making such data easier to access seems to have more positive than negative effects, according to this article. The fact that important information and statistics on baby crib safely, for example, was so difficult to uncover proved fatal. This one small example helps to prove that data, which is made more readily accessible to the public, could potentially save lives, or at the very least educate individuals who actually want to learn more. If data is made more public then there would be fewer excuses for people saying “I didn’t know” and we would then blame their ignorance and their lack of research.

  17. Simar Duggal

    Information is very important asset to hold, depending on the information that is held. The positive affect to having data is one of most importance for companies. The way that the Bay Area transit systems has been using the data to track were busses are is very useful for riders, I know that if i had an app that told me that my bus is stuck or is late, I’d more than thankful for the app. These sort of apps are more helpful for the consumer and this information becomes very useful.
    Though this type of data is useful, there might be data that should not be shared and used, government agency may be abusing there power of giving away information. Also the data should be reliable, and come form a source that is legit.

  18. Ashleigh

    Some attributes that make data valuable are the fact that is from a reliable resource, updated to current information and very accurate. Data is something that many people turn to figure out problems and to do research on different aspects of organizations. The information that governments retain would not be considered as free as these days there is nothing for free. There is always going to be some kind of hidden cost that will have to be paid. It should not be free to all other users of data because with the government this information will actually be beneficial to them. However to other people it could just be another way to commit fraud or steal someone’s identity. If it is that easy to obtain that information everyone would be using the data and most likely not for the right purposes.

  19. Chelsa

    Data is very valuable because it can be compiled to provide people with reliable, accurate and useful information. Some of this information was included in the article including using GPS data from buses to let the people using that service know when the buses are running and if they will be on time or not. As someone who used public transit a lot in the past I would have found this information very useful. The use of data to create up to date weather information and safety information for consumer products would also be very useful to consumers.

    The information that governments collect is not free and it should not necessarily be available to everyone. If the information the government is collecting is of a personal nature (ex. contact information for all the people living within a certain area) consent needs to be obtained before making that information public. People have the right to personal privacy and the government should not be allowed to freely disregard that right.

  20. Todd McCune

    There are many attributes that make data valuable. In a world technologically oriented where we have to adapt to change faster than ever, data is extremely important as a source of information. The first valuable attribute of data is its timeliness. As soon as data is entered into a system, it can be accessed all over the world by anyone who knows where to find it and has access. Another great attribute of data is that it is very cost efficient. Rather than putting something in print and having to ship it half way across the world, the data is entered at a very low cost and accessed with a low cost or for free.
    The government has free access to a lot of data that we do not. In some situations depending on the type of data, is should be made free to all others to have access to but there is also confidential or important data that only the government should be able to see or if we really need to see it, we should pay a small fee.

  21. Rio P

    The biggest attribute that makes data valuable is the ability to access the data however it must be used in a manner that allows the user to apply the data to their everyday lives, for example the GPS in the busses allows for consumers to track buses and plan accordingly: accessible and valuable. This data we have to pay the government in order to collect and process, however I don’t know if it should be available to everyone. I think that there could potentially be privacy issues as well as a business’s right to market their business in a manner that they choose to (within the law of course). If the data were to be available to all other users, I think there should be limits on what can be exposed and what cannot just due to privacy issues as well as safety issues, for example knowing the exact location of a bus could be potentially used by terrorist and other such groups.

  22. whyte

    The data the government collets is so powerful because knowledge is power. The more consumers know the more power they have against companies. If the consumer knows that they can get the same product somewhere else for less, or that the product may have defect then they are not likely to do business with that company. So for some this means that the information distributed on these websites are bad for business. However for well run companies that produce quality, reasonably priced products should see it as an opportunity for greater success, because consumers will likely chose their product over a poorly rated one.

    I believe that the information should be free. It is a public service that funded by tax payers money, so they should have access to it.

  23. Prab Grewal

    Important attributes for data: It must be reliable and trusted, for example it comes from a relevant source. Also the data should be something of importance that we can use in school or work related situations. The good thing with the technology these days that data is very easy to get to. Also data must be accurate and search current information online from a viable source. Thus making it being an up to the date resource. For example data is very valuable and we cannot afford to have outdated data or information. I think that certain data should be free for example if someone has put it online for everyone to use and anyone can retrieve it but the government should step in when it comes to personal and ethical information. The government should supervise all the criminal and health information and should never release that type of data. It also depends if someone really needed the data they could pay top dollar for it. It is something you cannot put a price on. It depends on how you look at the topic from a government point of view or a business point of view.

  24. Samantha.Kent

    The data that the government and companies collect on us should be used to help make our lives easier but if we can’t get access to the information then it is not use to us. If information that could help makes our lives easier such as the location of a bus or detailed weather report why not provide it to the public. As to the knowledge that of 265 children under the age of 5 died using nursery product in three years should have been made available to the public. If parents are deciding between cribs for their children should they not know how many children died using it? When lives are involved in a decision all knowledge of the product should be accessible to the consumer. If the cost of publishing the information it the main factor not to do it then how many lives or disasters have to happen before it is no longer a factor.

  25. Kuda

    Data can be valuable if it provides you with accurate information about whatever thing you desire. That is accurate data is valuable because it aid efficient decision making, something which has become important in this particular generation. The value of data can also be derived from its relevance. The question would be? Does this date being offered aimed at a particular goal. Users of the date have to perceive it as serving its intended purpose, yet apart from that it just becomes useless clutter, because it can be used. The date should also be verified for accuracy. I am sure this goes under is the date credible, and if it is, it is valuable: it can be trusted. I could almost say that the data the government gives should be free; however, there comes a problem when assessing the costs that go into putting this data together. But at the end of the day, people pay taxes, so it should be free.

  26. A.S.

    Attributes that make data valuable include trust as it must be retrieved from a reliable source, and to ensure that it is accurate and isn’t outdated. Government agencies that use data for purposes that simplify businesses processes and transactions, create value for the everyday consumer. A good example of this is portrayed in the article, where people who use public transportation can keep track of buses and estimate arrivals using real-time, “on-the-go” information. This resourceful tool reduces substantial costs and wait times for not only consumers, but also tax payers and government agencies. It is just as the article states, “The idea is that making things more transparent can immediately turn consumers into better shoppers and make markets work better.”

    The only problem resides when data is used to access personal information, in which a majority would agree breaches an ethical code of conduct. Thus these agencies must enforce strict regulation and supervision as there are many issues of piracy online. But if used for the right purpose, then it can be concluded that, “Data isn’t dull, it improves lives.”

  27. Ashley

    I think the value of data is based on the accuracy, relevance, and creditability. Without these three characteristics the value of the data is questionable. I don’t fully agree with some of the statements suggesting that in order for data to be valuable it needs to also be current or timely. If that was the case I wasted many hours in high school social studies class. “Old” data can be just as useful as new data providing researchers the ability to realize any consistencies or similarities with current findings. Being able to compare and contrast current facts and figures with historical information is valuable to many people.

    Information provided by the government is never free; nothing provided by the government is free. I don’t think information should be available to anyone because it rejects our rights to privacy. I would feel more comfortable knowing that information about myself was not up for grabs.

  28. Kim B

    If the government uses taxpayer dollars to collect information about its citizens, then yes, the information should be made available to the public. Of course not sensitive information, but the data collected by stats agencies is the amalgamation of all answers collected, so it is really just the average. I personally don’t see the harm in releasing these types of statistics to the public, or whichever company decides the information might be valuable to them. The exception to this, of course, is if the information is used by marketing agencies in essence to bug the heck out of people with the use of telemarketers. If the data is wanted and/or needed for a project the company is working on and the use of it will not bother or endanger anybody, why not let them have access to it? To me there doesn’t seem to be a lot of harm in doing that, especially because in essence, we paid someone to collect info about us, and then also paid in time (working hours) it took for the person to actually collect that info. Technically, we paid twice, so why not get as much use out of that information as possible?

  29. Kendra

    The data outlined in this article is valuable because it makes you aware of costs, it helps you time manage (if your bus is late you know you don’t need to rush), it helps you know about safety issues (crib example) and I’m sure there are many other bonuses to having so much data available at your fingertips.
    I think that the information the government collects should be free because you shouldn’t have to pay to find out whether or not the cradle your baby sleeps in is safe. But assuming that the government is going to be collecting data on things other than products, such as people, I don’t think that this information should be available to the public at all. I don’t think that personal information should be free because I don’t think that people should have full access to anything about me (especially with the amount of identity theft occurring). I also don’t think that this information should be bought. Those who would be willing to spend money to find out information on people would be exactly whom I wouldn’t want my information going to.
    Basically, if the government wants to gather information that is fantastic and I think that information should be available to everyone at no cost as long as this information is about products, services, and any other consumer goods.

  30. AS

    The attributes that can make data valuable would be the ability for consumers to make better purchasing decisions. It would save us a lot of money and time if we knew about the different options all in one convenient place, for example the airline tickets and extras as mentioned by the article. The information that governments collect is no entirely free it would be a minimal cost. I think that this information should be displayed to the public because as demonstrated by the crib example if we knew this information lives would be changed. It would definitely make competitive advantages and disadvantages more apparent to the public if this kind of information was displayed. But in turn we would receive the product that we were looking for with no hidden fees. It would be a security issue with the governments to put this kind of information out but I think that it could be very useful to the public if it is.

  31. Jared Scott

    I think that this data should have always been available. I feel it is the Governments responsibility to not keep secrets or withhold information that will benefit the public. The government is there for the people and not the other way around. Now that software developers are using that data to improve peoples lives is fantastic. Another feather in Obama’s cap.

  32. Abiola Ogunyemi

    In today world information is vital and information is a collection of different data. Government needs to act as a regulator body to make sure that the way data is being utilized and used by private organization is highly monitored and control that no information is held back from the public to profit private organization. And it will be a good idea that no hiding charges concept in being implemented.

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