SOCIETY | Sep 4, 2016

Five reasons to NOT have Open Data

The problem with fashions, most of the time, is that they go out of fashion. And this is why there is little to be happy about when we realize that all in all, today, Open Data is fashionable.

It seems we can no longer live without it. Listening to others speak, it seems that the economy cannot recover without. That the Public Administration could collapse under the weight of data that more than being such, continues to be kept.

Everyone is so eager and enthusiastic to free up the archives, as if they were garden gnomes, filling up the repositories with sophisticated datasets that show all sorts of things: from access to cycling tracks to the list of citizens’ postcodes divided by area. How can we live without it? Of course, there is no talk of economic-financial data. Not even a trace of healthcare cost data. Nothing about environmental data, otherwise there would be hell to pay! There may be financial statements, because they’re hard to understand anyway, therefore they can go online.

Municipalities, Provinces and Regions are all working hard to write laws that are often not much use, seeing as though they are often limited to “suggesting” creation of Open Data to public companies and institutions. And we don’t understand what the point of suggesting something is without making it mandatory, when it certainly isn’t forbidden anyway. But it all goes into the pot; it gets people talking about it. That it’s just a fashion, and all we need to do is wait for the fashion to pass. Talking, talking, talking about it. We couldn’t risk somebody actually doing something about it.

And so while the internet continues to spew out articles that explain the thousand reasons why Open Data should be created, perhaps it is better to think about why it is better not to create it. We need to reflect on why it is more profitable to forego this imposing fashion of open data, waiting for it to leave room for something newer that attracts the attention of the masses. And so we need solid reasons so we can suitable respond to those “old-fashioned” fanatics who still haven’t realized that the fashion of Open Data is about to go out of fashion.

It wouldn’t take a lot: just five reasons are enough proof to counteract the thousand good reasons why it is good to create Open Data and show why it isn’t a good idea. What are those reasons? Here they are:

It brings corruption to light.

opendataThis may seem banal but it is a known fact. Placing data under everyone’s gaze highlights the dyscrasia and emphasizes the differences. Are we sure this is appropriate? The country has suffered so much in recent years that perhaps it is better to avoid insisting on this point. This is a period of crisis after all, and there is no point in increasing social hatred even more and aiding the development of tools that can highlight illegal business. The country needs an injection of faith. It needs to believe in the people ruling the country. We do not need tools that make them have to explain why a service that costs 10 elsewhere costs 50 here! So many philosophers have said it, that a little corruption makes bureaucracy flow better. And Open Data won’t help in this sense for sure! That is why it is better to not move in this direction: Open Data brings corruption, illegal business and bad management to light. Are we sure that is wise?

It does not require expensive infrastructures.

Open data is a poor game, for the naïve. What sense does it make to use energies and resources to promote legislation that drives towards Open Data when to create Open Data no big investments are actually needed? Right now, when we need to relaunch the economy and get our companies working (both public and private), it is better to focus attention on laws that impose millionaire investments. To create Open Data only take a few Euro. That just isn’t worth the hassle. Let’s maybe talk about re-use, infrastructures, anything that, while connected to data (as we have to concede something here) imposes an investment of significant amounts. Who is going to earn anything out of it if not? Come on, be serious: we have to concentrate on the truly important things. Of course, Open Data isn’t free, but how much can actually be spent on it? It doesn’t even required expensive websites as the ones that already exist are more than sufficient! And so why work on something that doesn’t cost anything, that doesn’t allow us to have control over large budgets, that doesn’t allow us to build up a network of favors, as come on, we are close to election time too! No, we need to concentrate our efforts elsewhere!

It gives the citizen power.

It’s a well-known fact, knowledge is power. And the citizens already have too much power. They do too much damage with their right to vote already. Just imagine if it is a good idea to allow them to understand what’s happening. To access data that allows them to have a clear picture of things. To check the information that the PA manages and maybe help it to use the information better. No. It is better for the citizen not to have real power, no access to tools of knowledge. Everything that the Administration gives to the citizen is a concession, after all. It can’t become a right. And even less so a tool of participation. Participation is great in theory but managing it is a real headache. We don’t need that.

The citizens wouldn’t understand.

One the other hand, participating means understanding, but the people are like sheep, so the experts say and they need to stay like that. Let’s create Open Data, but how can we get the citizens to understand the value of the data we are distributing? No. That would be pointless. The citizen doesn’t have the skills to “interpret” the data and understand their implications. We need to keep them in the dark. They wouldn’t understand. They need someone to guide them, explain to them and spoon-feed them. Someone to provide an easy key to reality. Citizens aren’t intelligent enough to understand what is going on. Why give them data that they might interpret in a misleading way? Better to avoid that. Better to avoid that!

There are more important things to do.

And come on, let’s be clear about this: in the emergency situation that we are currently experiencing, do we really want to waste time on data? There are a thousand more important things to do. There is the economic situation, the infrastructures, the pension reform, the Euro crisis. Really: we have far more important things to think about than provide data to the citizens. You don’t really think that the availability of data is a driver for economic development? You don’t really think that knowledge is a tool of democracy and that democracy can now experience a new phase thanks to the availability of new tools and new contexts for participation? You don’t really want to waste time with Open Data? There are more important things to think about!

Open Data is just a fashion, a passing fashion. We don’t need to waste time on it: making processes transparent is a tool of participation, it aids to keep a check on public expenditure, it aids the development of services. It really is a headache.

And everybody is already talking about something else anyway! Do you want to be trendy? Talk about Smart Cities. And it’s probably a good idea not to ask yourself first of all whether we need Smart Citizens before we have Smart Cities.

Stefano Epifani