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  • Peter Kam Fai Cheung SBS

Open Data


Data are now "Big" or "Small" or "Open", but does "data" really mean data ie non-usable raw and unorganized sensory stimuli like alphabets, numbers or symbols? The idea of "Open Data" includes the use of meaningful information (organized and structured facts that represent or convey or explain something) inferred from data. In addition to know-what, I believe free-riders would also like to know: know-how, know-who, know-when, know-where, and know-why!

Data can be personal, and information derived from objective data can be proprietary and exclusive eg clinical trial data. If the data subject or the owner of the unique and commercially valuable information, agrees to let data into the public domain, intentionally with conditions (eg Creative Commons) or due to lack of management (ie open secret); or when legal protection expires, there is no debate at all. It is only when non data subjects or owners want open access to others' personal or proprietary exclusive data that has generated the debate.

Data as personal data is protected as a civil right of privacy while unique and secretive information inferred from data as result of intellectual effort is protected as an economic right of intellectual property. The human rights reflect the prevailing universal standards and norms in the real or virtual worlds. Reasonable use of certain proprietary information eg research is generally permitted under the laws, but what is contextually reasonable might become unreasonable as circumstances develop.

Use of others' data is not impossible and the fail-safe strategy is to seek prior consent which may be granted free or with conditions like payment of royalty or in kind. As upfront cost rather than passion is often a constraint to start up something novel before there is proof of concept, I believe benefit- sharing should be a viable solution if interested parties share common values and are collaborative. Thus data may be open in consensual sectors but not across the board, unless we live in a new society that shares or co-owns everything and everyone works towards the same communal goal!

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