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Feng Gao

Open Data Advocate and Open Knowledge's ambassador for China. Researching, Designing and Coding for Change. Available for Freelancing work

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Chinese Gov's interest is in big data but probably NOT open data

Both Shanghai and Beijing have published their government data on their data portals (shanghai’s, beijing’s).It seems to be a bright future for open data in China. But I do have concerns on whether Chinese goverment does really want it.

As far as I know, there is currently no national plan on Open data in China. However, the central government does have interest in “big data” and have included it as part of its national basic research program “Program 973”. Therefore, many cities and provinces such as Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing, GuangDong, and Shaanxi announced their own ambitious plans on Big Data. In those plans, they mention they will somehow “open up” their government data in order to provide better public services and create new economic opportunities. However, please note that the meaning of “open up” is not clearly defined, they probably means openly publish their data or allows selected companies to access those data to work on big data project.

Although I acknowledge and appreciate all hard works local governments have done, I’m still not sure whether governments’ ambition on big data could finally lead us to a success of open data. There are three major issues I concern:

First, do governments commit to transparency? I believe opening up data should mean the government is willing to be more transparent and allows citizens to use those data to monitor and support government’s works. However, I do not find explicit commitment to transparency in those local governments’ reports. Governments seem to be more interested in the economic value, which the big data project potentially could create. Thus, it seems that the action of opening up data is only a side product of governments’ ambition on big data.

Second, the lack of central government’s support for open data will prevent the local governments from releasing key datasets such as spending data and budgets data. I doubt any local government’s politician will take the risk to release those sensitive datasets and even though they do so, will the central government finally start censoring applications built upon such open data? Probably yes, and it will be another Solvak’s ZNasichDani.sk project.

Third, will government open up personal information? As I mentioned above, the meaning of “open up” is not quite clearly defined in governments’ reports and it is possible that government will share data containing personal information with other companies. Bad things could happen under the name of open data.

It is still an early stage of the “big/open” data movement in China and I hope I’m wrong and the Goverment will really do something good to impress us.