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Google Oz maps mashups herald brave loo world

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Relief is at hand for Googlers who get caught short while out shopping - Google Australia may have got its hands on the National Toilet Database.

This is just one of the new data sets that Google Australia is planning to incorporate into its Google Maps platform, courtesy of a major "open access" initiative by the Government 2.0 Taskforce.

Speaking openly about Google’s view of the ultimate prize in an interview with iTNews at the weekend, director of engineering at Google Australia Alan Noble said: "There's one data set in particular that we've been trying to get our hands on for quite some time - which is the national toilet data set.

"That's certainly one data set that we're very, very keen to use and get those toilet locations on Google Maps."

He also spoke of Google plans to add "other data sets", including data on cycling, boat ramp locations and marine hazards.

This follows a run-in earlier in the year between Google and the Government of Victoria. Google had attempted to provide support for the Country Fire Authority (CFA) website - which was having difficulty in maintaining an online list of bushfire updates - by overlaying publicly available data onto Google Maps to produce a real-time map of the fires' locations and intensities.

However, Google’s request to the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) fell foul of current laws on Crown copyright, which assign copyright over all government-produced information to the government and prevent its use without explicit consent.

The Toilet database is managed by the Australian Department of Health and Ageing as part of its National Continence Management Strategy – and it, too, bumped up against a strict interpretation of Crown Copyright.

Similar issues have dogged the attempts of UK citizens to free up information that might logically have been considered to be available through Freedom of Information requests. The University of Southampton is just one official body that has attempted to restrict the results of FoI to the original interrogator, and to prevent information being disseminated to a wider audience.

However, in a refreshingly open move, the Australian Government has set up the Government 2.0 Taskforce, with the explicit remit of stimulating and enabling open access to government data sets, which it defines as "access on terms and in formats that clearly permit and enable such use and re-use by any member of the public".

This opening up process is being encouraged by a context – Mashup Australia – which is offering members of the public a $10,000 prize for the best re-use of the data.

This in turn has led to a number of 'hackfests' being held around the country. The latest took place at Sydney's Googleplex on Saturday where programmers came together to work on actual data, as well as put forward ideas for new projects. ®

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