UK should persuade Apple, Google and Uber to share their mapping data, says ODI

Apple, Google and Uber should publish their mapping data to help the development of technologies such driverless cars and drones, according to a report by the Open Data Institute.

The UK Government has estimated that maximising the value of such data could generate up to £11bn a year and it has committed to making the geospatial data it holds more openly available, particularly that held by Ordnance Survey.

However, said the ODI, it is still hard to get hold of geospatial data from both the public and the private sectors. Government agencies charge fees that make it hard for startups to get started; rights over UK address data were privatised with the Royal Mail, and Google Maps recently increased its pricing by over 1000%.

“Making data from both the public and private sectors openly available and interoperable will mean more organisations can access data from different sources and combine it to build new services and technologies,” it said.

Geospatial data, which includes addresses and city boundaries, supports dozens of everyday services, from parcel and food deliveries to apps like Google Maps and Uber. technology companies possess vast amounts of geospatial data, but it is largely inaccessible to others and the ODI argues it should be as open and part of the “national infrastructure.”

Analysing map data can help communities and organisations make decisions across a range of sectors, for example, how to improve access to a school or hospital. data could also boost the development of new technologies like drones, commercial satellites, and driverless and connected cars, the report says.

In a second report, The UK’s geospatial data infrastructure: challenges and opportunities the ODI shows how commercial organisations now collect geospatial data “quickly and at scale”.

This process is  made possible through technological advances in satellites and GPS-enabled devices. “National mapping agencies and other public bodies need to respond to the increasingly large role played by commercial organisations as collectors, aggregators and stewards of geospatial data,” it said.

ODI proposes that to avoid commercial organisations “hoarding national geospatial data”, the Geospatial Commission should:

  • Work with public sector organisations to explore different business models – in particular those that represent alternatives to paying to use and share data.
  • Support broader debate around the respective roles of public, private and third sector organisations in maintaining and enhancing the UK’s geospatial data infrastructure.
  • Consult on whether public sector organisations should have powers to mandate access, use and sharing of data – in defined ways – held by large firms.

“Like other parts of our data infrastructure, we believe that geospatial data should be as open as possible while respecting privacy, national security and commercial confidentiality. In many cases, geospatial data can be open data for anyone to access, use and share,” said Jeni Tennison, the ODI’s chief executive.

“Our report shows that open geospatial data is necessary to enable innovation and growth in key sectors. To deliver this, the Government must engage and work with private companies, who are creating and collecting geospatial data as part of their businesses, to explore how that data can benefit everyone.

“The UK needs an effective geospatial strategy that looks beyond geospatial data holders in the public sector. Without it, the UK will fail to meet commitments to industries that rely on new technology, such as driverless cars and drone delivery.”