Friday, 28 October 2011

We don't need *a* Public Data Corporation, we need a plurality of competing Public Data Corporations

Yesterday we submitted evidence (pdf) to the Government's consultation Data Policy for a Public Data Corporation.

Update 15-Dec-11: We welcome the government's announcement today at an RSA/2020 open data round table where Cabinet Office Minister Frances Maude said "we're moving away from a model where government tries to gain in the short term by extracting value from public data, and moving towards long term benefits [to the UK economy]."  Open Digital understands the plans for a Public Data Corporation have been replaced with a Public Data Office, and it's not just a change in name.

Although the Cabinet Office consultation asked some specific questions about its policy of creating a Public Data Corporation - a central agency to facilitate release of public data sets - including questions about what services the corporation should be allowed to charge for, I decided to argue for not one Public Data Corporation but a plurality of competing Public Data Corporations.

The idea from government seems to be (phase 1) create a Public Data Corporation; (phase 3) profit.  The government seems to think direct returns can be made either by floating the Public Data Corporation and/or charging for access to certain data sets and passing-on some of the charges to the originating departments.

Our submission outlines many of the secondary benefits to free and open public data.  It will keep the barrier to data innovation low; tinkervation - tinkering with data sets despite there being no apparent business model to do so, will only happen if data is free and open.  The UK economy will benefit if UK businesses profit from open data, and the public will still benefit through a range social, democratic and educational uses of data in cases where no taxable revenue is created.

I then argue that the idea behind an investment-led approach to public data is flawed, mainly because we don't know enough about (a) how much of the data held will be used - that's the job of data innovators; and, (b) how online content will be funded in future. The online ad sector is booming, with stacks of cash being spent, but this isn't - as yet - trickling down to online publishers.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Behind the headlines: libel committee report, anonymous comments & corporate defamation

Reposted from

Some reports are hard to summarise in a headline, and some headlines haven't done the report from the Joint Committee on the Draft Defamation Bill much justice.

Headlines such as "Websites 'should carry libel risk for anonymous posts'" might leave the reader thinking the report is an attack on so-called anonymous culture. In fact the Guardiangoes further:
"MPs and peers recommended tackling the culture of anonymous online comments"
But the report is far more nuanced than can be summed up in any headline or single sentence. Whilst the report contains a couple of worrying paragraphs about encouraging moderation of online content and perpetuating the idea that "upstream" web service and internet service providers continue to carry some responsibility:
"... in line with our core principle that freedom of speech should be exercised with due regard to the protection of reputation." 
The report is far from an attack on anonymous comments, contains a lot of very encouraging points on a breadth of issues, and interestingly draws some parallels with privacy law (true allegations the claimant wants to remain private) and defamation (untrue allegations).

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Statement on child safety & ISP web blocking of pornography

The following statement has been agreed by our Policy Advisory Council:
Open Digital welcomes ISPs offering more choice for consumers, allowing them to choose to block most adult content from being accessed over a customer's internet connection. However, we urge ISPs to warn parents not to rely on technical measures as the sole safeguard against children accessing potentially harmful content, as no filtering system is 100% effective.

We welcome ISPs working together with the government to improve the "digital literacy" of customers, many of whom are not aware of the wide range of online threats, including harmful content being accessed by their children.

We also call on ISPs to offer such blocks on a voluntary basis, so they can easily be switched on, but are not enabled by default. ISPs should provide full transparency of the websites blocked by their filters, providing website owners with a quick and effective mechanism to check if their websites are blocked, and a rapid resolution procedure for website owners who feel their websites are being unfairly blocked. We are aware of several high profile UK websites, including blogs, activist sites and at least one high street chain which have been inappropriately blocked by at least one mobile network operator as "adult content".

Unfair accidental blocking of commercial websites has the potential to cause serious financial damage and can prompt customers to turn off adult content blocking altogether, in order to access regular content, potentially leaving children at risk of accidental exposure.
The text was agreed by email vote, with 3 votes in favour, 1 non-response, the proposer abstaining and no votes against.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Social Media and Injunctions - our evidence to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Privacy and Injunctions

It's a complex area - where does the balance lie between privacy and freedom of the press/freedom of expression? Do injunctions help enforce this balance? Are court injunctions even effective against social media or overseas news outlets?

Here's our evidence to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Privacy and Injunctions (pdf).

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Urgent crowd-source request: social media, privacy and super-injunctions

It has just come to my attention that the deadline for written evidence to the Joint Committee on Privacy and Injunctions is tomorrow, 6th October.

I would really like to capture the mood of the blogosphere, but with just 24 hours to create a submission I may have left it a bit late.

I'm wondering if the blogosphere can come to the rescue.  Tweet us - @open_digital - or submit your comments below (anonymous is fine) and we'll try and pull together as many views as possible into a single submission for the committee.

Note: please use the #anon hashtag on Twitter if you do not want us to include your Twitter ID in our submission, and post anonymously to the comments if you do not want us to include your Blogger ID.


James Firth

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

UK's delayed deployment of 4G fast mobile data to cost UK businesses £732m per year

Our first paper released today (pdf) shows British businesses will lose hundreds of millions of pounds a year because of the UK government’s delay in rolling out fast 4G mobile broadband.

With faster mobile data downloads, more than 37 million business hours a year could be saved. Those extra hours cost UK businesses £732 million a year.

Other countries, including the US, Germany, Sweden, Finland and Korea have already launched 4G fast mobile broadband, putting UK businesses at a commercial and technological disadvantage.

“Visitors to Britain will first notice London’s lack of 4G mobile data when they arrive for the Olympics next year,” says James Firth, report co-author and CEO of Open Digital. "In addition to the lost time through slow mobile data, UK businesses won’t be able to fully benefit from new cloud-based business tools until the UK has a nationwide reliable high speed mobile data network."

Ofcom, the UK regulatory authority tasked with allocating the necessary radio spectrum, does not anticipate the first commercial 4G services to come online before 2013, and nationwide roll-out won’t be complete before 2017.

Open Digital is calling on Ofcom to adopt more ambitious roll-out targets and for the government to acknowledge the massive benefit to the economy from 4G mobile data.

Our findings also put the cost to the UK economy from the recently announced delay of 3-6 months in holding the auction to allocate licenses necessary to run 4G services at £183m - £366m.