Free Our Data: the blog

A Guardian Technology campaign for free public access to data about the UK and its citizens


Another day, another budget; but we need monetary arguments

I spent a long train journey last night reading an enormous email conversation about 2002’s withdrawal by the Ordnance Survey of the Panorama product (which provided comparatively cheap – though not free – data on height).

It was clear that the reason why the OS was withdrawing the product was simple: it competed with the higher-quality and more expensive products that it had generated more recently itself. Trouble was, people were still plumping for the cheap Panorama one.

So the arguments that were being made to the OS – that it ought to make the data available, that others would host the data for free if the OS would only release it to the public domain – clearly weren’t going to work.

What we have to recognise in this campaign is that it will not be won by appealing to the better nature of the OS or the Treasury. They don’t have one.

The only argument that wins is the economic one: that the Treasury (in particular) will receive more money through the data being free than by it being charged for. That means you have to demonstrate that there will be enough mapping companies, and that they’ll be big enough, that their tax revenues will exceed £105 million (the OS’s revenues, I think, in the past year).

OBviously here the Peter Weiss paper is the best illustration, but it’s only an illustration – at present. We need better illustrations tailored to the UK.

I’m considering the way forward at present. One tactic that seemed logical is to do an FOI request to each of the “target” organisations asking what data they charge for, and how much they charge, and how much revenue they get from them.

Other thoughts?

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