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Steelie Neelie dreams of apps slurping public data for free

EU digital chief proposes pumping info to devs

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Steelie Neelie Kroes, European digital agenda commissioner, has called for public data to be more easily and cheaply accessible, a move that could benefit smartphone and web developers.

Kroes is proposing a revision to the 2003 directive on reuse of public information [PDF, 7-pages] that will make it easier for companies to make some extra money from freely available data.

"Web entrepreneurs assemble and sell content and applications and advertising, based on data. With those efforts they make our lives more convenient and they keep authorities accountable," Kroes said in a speech yesterday.

"I am proud to present an Open Data package that can drastically increase the possibilities for those web entrepreneurs; the opportunities of businesses, journalists, academics and all citizens, in fact, to generate new and rich content," she added.

The kind of information that would become available includes meteorological data, geographical information and public directories, which web developers could use for hotel and restaurant finding apps or weather apps for smartphones.

Of course, the Commission is not just interested in opening up data in Europe for the good of developers, it also reckons that it will give the economy a boost.

"We calculate that public sector information already generates €32bn [£27bn] of economic activity each year. This package would more than double that - to around €70 billion," Kroes said.

The Open Data proposal limits fees on public data to "marginal costs", if not gratis, but the revision will need approval from both the European Council and the European Parliament before it can take effect.

The gist of the changes to the directive are:

  • Making it a general rule that all documents made accessible by public sector bodies can be reused for any purpose, commercial or non-commercial, unless protected by third-party copyright.
  • Establishing the principle that public bodies should not be allowed to charge more than costs triggered by the individual request for data (marginal costs); in practice this means most data will be offered for free or virtually for free, unless duly justified.
  • Making it compulsory to provide data in commonly-used, machine-readable formats, to ensure data can be effectively re-used.
  • Introducing regulatory oversight to enforce these principles.
  • Massively expanding the reach of the directive to include libraries, museums and archives for the first time; the existing 2003 rules will apply to data from such institutions.

However, the Commission isn't waiting for the votes to come in, it's promising to open up its own data vaults in the first half of next year.

"During the first half of 2012 the Commission's own data will be available free, open and easily usable on computers from a single portal," said Kroes. "We will be pushing the other agencies and institutions to join us." ®

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