Who are the open data entrepreneurs?

reagan-quoteDay by day, we are gaining better maps and tools to navigate the complexities of world around us. The ways that open data is finding its way into the hands of citizens and consumers were described today in a new report from a federal interagency task force on “smart disclosure.”

Smart disclosure, for those unfamiliar, is a term of art for when a private company or government agency provides you with access to your own data in a format that enables you to put the data to use.

When distributed this way, personal data ownership improves market transparency, empowers consumers and drives the nascent open data economy.

According to federal officials, this report from the National Science and Technology Council is the “first comprehensive description of the Federal Government’s efforts to promote the smart disclosure of information that can help consumers make wise decisions in the marketplace.” If you’re interested in the topic, it’s one of the most clearly written government documents I’ve come across lately: give it a read.

As Alex Fitzpatrick pointed out in his post on the ways companies are using government data, however, the report didn’t include the names of specific companies.

Given my research on the open data economy, I think I can fill in a few more of them, looking across sectors. (The administration itself identified Billguard, OPower and iTriage in February, in a post on open government data and jobs.)

In education, check out startups like Better Lesson and SoFi.

In energy, look at WattzOn, PlotWatt, SimpleEnergy and FirstFuel, in addition to OPower.

In consumer finance, evaluate HelloWallet, Brightscope and CalcBench, in addition to Billguard.

In real estate, look to Zillow and Trulia.

In healthcare, consider mHealthCoach, Kyruus or the growing number of health care apps and services on display at next week’s “Health Datapalooza.”

The administration’s top IT officials — chief information officer Steven VanRoekel and chief technology officer Todd Park — say that open data is good for America. If its release supports or leads to the creation of more startups that create products and services that improve people’s lives, that assertion will be born out.

If you recognize other startups from the descriptions in Alex’s post, please drop him a comment or a tweet — and if you use open government data in your startup, nonprofit or enterprise, please let us know in the comments.

Putting personal open data in the hands of consumers targets transparency where it matters

“…a few companies are challenging the norm of corporate data hoarding by actually sharing some information with the customers who generate it — and offering tools to put it to use,” writes Natasha Singer in the New York Times. “It’s a small but provocative trend in the United States, where only a handful of industries, like health care and credit, are required by federal law to provide people with access to their records.”

I’m a little perplexed by this story. It’s like the author goes out of her way to be skeptical of “open data” but then writes a piece that explored how data is being (wait for it) opened up to consumers.

On the one hand, Singer is 100% right: much of the data collected about consumers is not available to them, from shopping to telecom to energy to healthcare, much less data collected in the business of government. For them, an “open data society” is a long way off. On the other hand, I’m perplexed about where this society has been proposed or by whom. There’s a bit of a whiff of straw here.

All that being said, that Singer identified consumer data disclosure as a trend in the New York Times Sunday Business section is notable, given the influence of that perch.

Of course, if you’ve been reading Radar, you knew about smart disclosure and targeted transparency, knew personal data ownership was a trend to watch, and learned more about the acceleration of consumer data releases this February.

If you missed those pieces, I hope they’re useful to you today.

Personal data ownership is an idea that numerous people have been advancing and advocating for years. (I was glad to see Doc Searls cited in the Times). It’s an important principle.

The idea of a “right to data” has also received high-level support (if not legislation and regulation): last year, former Federal Trade Commission chairman Leibowitz said that American citizens should be able to learn see what information is held by them and “have the right to correct inaccurate data,” much as they do with credit reports.

While there’s still a long way to go before a majority of the private sector acknowledges such access as an a privilege, there’s good reason to see a shift that will benefit consumers in the long-run.

Over time, it’s even possible that such open data will benefit society. (Just don’t go overboard on the hoopla about it.)