[Editor's note: Good news! The World Bank has listened and responded with a new blog post clarifying their stance on open data and backed away from Google Map Maker: "If the public helps to collect/create map data, the public should be able to access, use & reuse that data."]
By Nathaniel Vaughn KELSO
In their recent op-ed in the New York Times and on the official World Bank blog, Caroline Anstey* and Soren Gigler** made a compelling case for open data and open government that is fatally flawed. Unless fixed, it has dangerous implications for the future of open data globally. The World Bank’s new policy around map data is needlessly exclusionary: public data should remain publicly accessible.
Over the past two years, the World Bank has made great strides in making its processes more transparent and rethinking the international organization as a development platform and innovation bank.
However, on January 13th, Ms. Anstey and Mr. Gigler muddied that effort by partnering with Google on map data as an end game around many of those “open” goals. Let me be very clear:
The World Bank’s new agreement with Google is a neocolonial wolf handing out shiny blue Map Maker t-shirts.
Google Map Maker expressly prohibits citizen cartographers from using/sharing the very data they add to the map in ways that can help their own development efforts. Users are locked into the Google platform: they cannot export their data or create derivative work, especially commercial projects. Nor can they share that geo data with other online mapping efforts, especially critical during disaster relief.
The World Bank has successfully partnered on map data before, most notably in Haiti with OpenStreetMap (OSM) in response to the major earthquake and the following humanitarian crises.
The Haiti experience shows that crowd sourcing map data works. Most developing countries do not have basic local map data. Timely, accurate geo data showing roads, schools, fresh water sources, health facilities, and more help save lives during an emergency, and in the meantime we all enjoy with up-to-the-minute maps. Regardless if you are in Washington, D.C. or Nairobi, Kenya.
I agree the Bank’s core mission is advanced by improving access to geo data for humanitarian response and development planning. This serves to make development more effective and inclusive by expanding access to basic geo information.
It is appropriate to engage citizens in the Bank’s client countries by inviting them to participate (via mapping parties and online portals) and strengthen the capacity of civil society to “put them selves on the map”. That is an inalienable right and a noble effort by the Bank to facilitate.
But this new agreement falls down on close inspection of the Google Map Maker terms of service. The corporate legalese is contrary to another Bank core principle:
“the right to use that same open data to empower citizens in effective development.”
The Google partnership proposes a new digital serfdom. The Bank should instead embrace the OpenStreetMap model: a system of micro-data grants that empowers a self-sustaining wave of economic development as more data gets added to the map. The citizen map maker should have an ownership share.
I urge the Ms. Anstey and Mr. Gigler to emphasize to the World Bank’s local offices and partner organizations (including the United Nations) that this new agreement with Google is *non-exclusive*, meaning the Bank can and must open data by sharing local geo data with other organizations, like OpenStreetMap.
When the Bank partners to allow citizens to draw their own map, the resulting map data must be free and open. Indeed, open mapping tools and civil society organizations like OpenStreetMap (who innovated first with mapping parties and their online map editor) should be leveraged and grown as much as possible.
Instead, the current agreement allows Google to use local citizens to collect information for free and make exclusive profit. The agreement, specifically the general Map Maker terms or special ODbL terms for the World Bank project, should be rewritten as Patrick Meier*** suggests, to ”allow citizens themselves to use the data in whatever platform they so choose to improve citizen feedback in project planning, implementation and monitoring & evaluation.”
The World Bank must reiterate its commitment to truly open data with due speed.
The author is chief cartographer for the Natural Earth, a public domain map database. His maps have been published in The Washington Post and National Geographic and he is a design technologist at Stamen Design.
* Caroline Anstey is a managing director of the World Bank.
** Soren Gigler is Senior Governance Specialist, Innovation at the World Bank.
*** Patrick Meier is director of crises mapping at Ushahidi.