Tax them on their data
If we as consumers have to pay for digital services like Facebook and Twitter with our data, shouldn’t tech companies also have to pay with theirs sometimes?
The Open Data Institute has called on the UK government to force companies like Google, Apple, and Uber to share their mapping data so that other companies are able to develop autonomous cars, drones and transport apps, which depend on high-quality information about their surroundings.
“The Open Data Institute, co-founded by Tim Berners-Lee at MIT and Nigel Shadbolt, artificial intelligence professor at the University of Oxford, warned on Tuesday that big tech companies had become ‘data monopolies.’
"The group said the UK’s Geospatial Commission should ask the companies to share map data with rivals and the public sector in a collaborative database or else force them to do so with legislation.”
The idea of 'data monopolies’ is an important one. Google Maps might be absolutely brilliant for users (it’s probably the best map software in the world for many uses), but it belongs to a company that can offer it, share it, or withdraw access as it sees fit.
As Apple is finding right now, building a good map these days takes cars, planes and maybe even pedestrians with LiDAR backpacks to collect the depth of data required. It’s a long, complicated process. A new startup simply can’t hope to create a map that matches up to the big tech companies’ best.
In the past, our governments were often the best cartographers – take the Ordnance Survey in the UK, for example, but good luck getting your government to fund an open-data equivalent of everything Google Maps has to offer.
While it’s only right that companies that invest in building the best maps get to profit from them, there may be a baseline of high-quality data they should share openly as an act of good citizenship. After all – that map data is the story of all of us and the way we shape our world.
If you think of paying taxes as a way for a business to show respect to the countries it operates in, paying some of that tax in data isn’t a bad idea at all.