Should Government Agencies Buy Data From Google And Facebook?

Should Government Agencies Buy Data From Google And Facebook?

The Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) last week released the draft version of its Big Data Strategy issues paper, designed to help departments formulate their own big data strategy. While many government agencies already have large amounts of data to churn through, one intriguing prospect the paper raises is that agencies might acquire data from Google, Twitter and other online businesses to enhance their own analytical capabilities.

The suggestion comes partway through the paper:

Private sector organisations such as Google, Twitter and Facebook hold enormous data stores on Australian citizens and people across the world, and offer access to these on commercial terms. While needing to carefully consider the veracity of this data, it may be that agencies could consider using this data as part of big data analytics projects. The ethical, privacy and security implications of decisions such as these will need to be carefully considered.

At the AIIA Navigating Big Data conference last week, AGIMO first assistant secretary policy and planning division Glenn Archer argued that dealing with big data skills shortages would inevitably require industry co-operation. “We have a real problem in this country — in fact on this planet — in relation to the scarcity of talent, both in terms of ICT generally and specifically with big data,” he said. “We also need to leverage the considerable skills and expertise that exist in the wider community. We do expect to look to engage quite actively with industry.”

When it comes to sharing existing government data, security and privacy is again a major concern:

The public release of large machine-readable data sets, as part of the open government policy, could potentially provide an opportunity for unfriendly state and non-state actors to glean sensitive information, or create a mosaic of exploitable information from apparently innocuous data. This threat will need to be understood and carefully managed.

AGIMO is inviting comments on the draft version of the policy; hit up the link below if you want to offer your input.

Released: Released: Big data Strategy Issues Paper [AGIMO]


  • I don’t think the paper is talking about buying the data, as much as outsourcing the expertise in managing it – the data is basically already available for free anyway.

    The key ethical concern would be whether doing so might inadvertently give away or create an impression to the outsourced provider confidential details about individuals (by requesting data sets to match sets of certain characteristics – say characteristics that correlate strongly with welfare cheats, potential terrorists, etc.). I also suspect there’d be issues with data security and privacy laws – the rules around government storage of citizen data are much stricter than those for everyone else, so there might be implications for how the data is stored, even if it belongs to Google or Twitter.

    Overall, if it’s within the terms of service of those providers, and within the current law, then yes, the government absolutely should. And if that prospect is scary to you – like it is to me – you should be even more careful about knowing and controlling the data trails you leave online.

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