Google, Uber and Apple must share mapping info, says UK data group

Opening up available mapping data could help to accelerate new technologies and bring £11m in to the UK annually, says UK gov

Data streams over a busy city

Tech giants such as Apple, Google and Uber should be forced to share geospatial data with other firms, a data advisory group has told the UK government.

In a report published on Tuesday, ahead of the UK government's forthcoming review of national geospatial strategy, the Open Data Institute (ODI) said that tech firms who create and collect mapping data will stifle innovation in the UK if it is not shared.

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Geospatial data drives many of the services we use every day, from imported foods to business travel. Maximising the value of such data could generate an estimated 6 to 11 billion each year and help to accelerate technologies like driverless cars and drones, according to the UK government. 

The current amount of geospatial data the government holds is openly available, but for other companies are not forced to ensure the same level of sharing. 

For example, the rights to UK address data was privatised with the Royal Mail and Google Maps recently increased its pricing by over 100%, putting an unfair charge on small businesses and acting as a potential blocker to innovation.

"Like other parts of our data infrastructure, we believe that geospatial data should be as open as possible while respecting privacy, national security and commercial confidentiality," said Jeni Tennison, CEO at the ODI.

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"In many cases, geospatial data can be open data for anyone to access, use and share. Our report shows that open geospatial data is necessary to enable innovation and growth in key sectors. To deliver this, the government must engage and work with private companies, who are creating and collecting geospatial data as part of their businesses, to explore how that data can benefit everyone."

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The ODI is an influential group, co-founded by Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, and Nigel Shadbolt, who is a professor of AI at Oxford. The group's argument is that by making data from both the public and private sectors openly available, more organisations can access data from different sources and use it to build new services and technologies.

A recent example of the benefits of open data is Matthew Somerville's live interactive London Tube Map, made possible by TfL's open APIs. The Birmingham-based programmer developed a map that tracks trains in real time to let passengers know where their train is and when it will arrive.

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