Survey: Governments’ Pledge to be ‘Open by Default’ Still Mostly a Talking Point

Pavel Ignatov/

A newly released World Wide Web Foundation survey found more than 90 percent of the polled nations still keep reams of government data hidden from the public.

Despite talking the government transparency talk, most countries achieve nothing close to the walk.

That’s according to a newly released World Wide Web Foundation survey of 86 countries, which found more than 90 percent of the polled nations still keep reams of government data hidden from the public. When data is released, it is often overly simplified and rarely updated, the survey found.

Released Tuesday and backed by Web royalty Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the second-annual Open Data Barometer Global Report examined each government’s ability to not only publicize its data but to do so in a way that allows the average person to access, read and share it.

Only 8 percent met these standards when it came to government spending data, 13 percent when it came to government budgets and a startling 3 percent when it came to company ownership.

The creation of the Open Data Barometer came in the wake of the 2013 “open by default,” or OBD, revolution. G8 leaders at the time proclaimed their commitment to sharing public sector data by signing the Open Data Charter. The following year, the G20 and the United Nations followed suit by agreeing to a similar philosophy.

And yet, a year later these public declarations have yielded minimal results.

Berners-Lee said a public commitment by countries to being “open by default” is an important step toward defeating corruption.

“Now, they need to keep their promises to make critical areas like government spending and contracts open by default,” he said in a statement. “The unfair practice of charging citizens to access public information collected with their tax resources must cease.”

The new report ranked each countries’ “OBD readiness” according to four categories: “High capacity” at the top, followed by “emerging & advancing,” “capacity constrained” and “One-sided initiatives.”

The U.K. led with a score of 100, thanks in part to its publishing of land ownership data. The U.S., given a score of 93 and in second place, does not publish that data.

Among developing countries, the leader is Indonesia.

Perhaps the most surprising result comes from Brazil’s emerging market, which increased its score and is now included in the top five of “emerging & advancing” nations, ahead of such countries as Ireland and Italy.

There are various reasons why so many countries are failing their constituents when it comes to sharing data, according to the report.

According to the study, “Just 17 percent of the countries have a well-functioning right to information law.”

Without transparency rules spelled out and paired with clear consequences, it comes as little surprise so few countries follow through with maintaining open data.

Although three of the G8 Open Data Charter backers were ranked in the top five (the U.K., U.S. and France) and many of them have seen at least slight progress, others -- including Japan and Russia -- failed to even make the top 10.

But José M. Alonso, open data program manager at the World Wide Web Foundation, said he believes even those G8 countries in the top five have a responsibility to do more than improve their own open data.

“Many developing countries have the political will, but not the resources or capacity to succeed,” he said in a statement. “The G7 and G20, as well as stakeholders like multilateral organizations, need to increase aid and lending for well-rounded open data initiatives to ensure that the ‘data revolution’ doesn’t leave developing countries behind.”

(Image via Pavel Ignatov/