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Open data – Definition, Process, Significance, Privacy

okfn_logoIn July 2014, the Dutch Central Bureau for Statistics provided its entire database as open data to the public. The term ‘open data’ is loosely used in media reports and political debates, but what does the term open data actually mean? How is the process of providing data as open data developing? How significant are open datasets and is the privacy of consumers guaranteed? This article will give an overview to those questions.

  1. What does the term open data mean?

According to the definition of the Open Knowledge Foundation a piece of data is open if anyone is free to use, reuse, and redistribute it.

The Dutch authorities define open datasets as data, which are public, do not infringe copyrights or intellectual property, are government-financed, fulfil open data standards and are computer-readable.

Public databases, like the ones provided by the Dutch Central Bureau for Statistics, are open data. Those datasets are compiled while carrying out a public task, which is funded by the government. It is essential that the user of open data can find the sets easily and reuse those without restrictions.

Open data are therefore not only significant for the economy, but also increase the openness and transparency of the authorities.


  1. How open is the world?

The Open Data Index published by the Open Knowledge Foundation ranks the UK first, the US second and Denmark third. The Netherlands achieved rank 5, France 16, Germany 38 and Belgium 58. These results are based on a snapshot of October 2013. The index measures the quality and availability of the datasets, which were released by national governments. The index focus is on openness and quality of particular datasets such as information about government spending, election results, company registers, and postcodes.

The index points out the division between countries providing good transparency and valuable information and countries which citizens are deprived of key information such as election results.


  1. Potential for the economy

By merging several datasets, huge piles of information emerge. It is, however, difficult to handle those huge, unstructured big data sets. Companies, especially innovative start-ups, benefit from this situation by offering to organize and handle the data adjusted to their customers wishes. The start-ups merge different open data sets from various sources to gain detailed information. Thereby an entirely new branch of IT services developed. According to experts, the use of open data can also improve administration and management processes by making them more efficient and sustainable.


  1. Privacy jeopardized?

Privacy activists are concerned that the security of personal data is in danger due to those merging datasets. In fact, open data are always anonymized but, because of progress in technology, the used method to make data anonymous does not offer enough security anymore.

The European Commission made use of its right to initiate legislation already back in January 2012 by proposing a major reform of the EU legal framework on the protection of personal data. The new proposals are supposed to strengthen individual rights and tackle challenges of new technologies. The European Parliament and the European Council are still debating on this topic.


Helen Picker