The Open (Data) Market

Sean McDonald at Medium: “Open licensing privatizes technology and data usability. How does that effect equality and accessibility?…The open licensing movement(open data, open source software, etc.) predicates its value on increasing accessibility and transparency by removing legal and ownership restrictions on use. The groups that advocate for open data and open sourcecode, especially in government and publicly subsidized industries, often come from transparency, accountability, and freedom of information backgrounds. These efforts, however, significantly underestimate the costs of refining, maintaining, targeting, defining a value proposition, marketing, and presenting both data and products in ways that are effective and useful for the average person. Recent research suggests the primary beneficiaries of civic technologies — those specifically built on government data or services — are privileged populations. The World Banks recent World Development Report goes further to point out that public digitization can be a driver of inequality.

The dynamic of self-replicating privilege in both technology and openmarkets is not a new phenomenon. Social science research refers to it as the Matthew Effect, which says that in open or unregulated spaces, theprivileged tend to become more privileged, while the poor become poorer.While there’s no question the advent of technology brings massive potential,it is already creating significant access and achievement divides. Accordingto the Federal Communication Commission’s annual Broadband Progressreport in 2015, 42% of students in the U.S. struggle to do their homeworkbecause of web access — and 39% of rural communities don’t even have abroadband option. Internet access skews toward urban, wealthycommunities, with income, geography, and demographics all playing a rolein adoption. Even further, research suggests that the rich and poor use technology differently. This runs counter to narrative of Interneteventualism, which insist that it’s simply a (small) matter of time beforethese access (and skills) gaps close. Evidence suggests that for upper andmiddle income groups access is almost universal, but the gaps for lowincome groups are growing…(More)”