Steven Johnson

Politicians are more powerful when they control public data

Steven Johnson, author of Where Good Ideas Come From, has a fantastic article in Wired about 311 in New York City (What a Hundred Million Calls to 311 Reveal About New York). Jason Kottke references the post and shares a point his friend makes that I’ve never really thought about:

Not discussed in the article is an assertion by my pal David that exclusive access to 311 data gives incumbent politicians — like, say, Michael Bloomberg — a distinct advantage when it comes to getting reelected. For instance, when campaigning on a neighborhood level, the incumbent can look at the 311 data for each neighborhood and tailor their message appropriately, e.g. promising to help combat noise in a neighborhood with lots of noise complaints or fix the streets in a neighborhood with lots of calls about potholes.

Whether it’s getting elected or discovering new businesses opportunities, open data levels the playing field.

When data is closed to only those who have access to it, incumbents have a leg up on their competition. They can cater to constituents who complain the most and disregard areas that aren’t familiar with the service or less likely to air their grievances (and most likely not vote).

Even worse, these politicians have insider information on business opportunities that can be realized with this type of data. That’s a pretty good perk for campaign contributors, right?

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to open government data. Thoughts on other insider opportunities when it comes to closed data?