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Smart Disclosure Makes Consumers Happier and Markets Better

"This will enable the public to search easily for smart disclosure data sets that are already available or could be made available," the report said.

"This will enable the public to search easily for smart disclosure data sets that are already available or could be made available," the report said. // Shutterstock.com

The government collects reams of information that might benefit citizens, but just opening that data up to the public isn’t enough, according to a task force report released Thursday.

Federal agencies should tag any public data releases that might benefit people so consumers and intermediaries such as smart buying applications can easily find relevant information, a task force of the White House’s National Science and Technology Council said.

Officials also should create a cross-government community of practice so agencies can share ideas about how best to get consumer information to the public, according to the report.

“This will enable the public to search easily for smart disclosure data sets that are already available or could be made available,” the report said. “Such tagging in agency’s metadata will also enable the creation of a centralized directory of smart disclosure data sets held by the government.”

President Obama signed an executive order in May requiring agencies to make as much of their data as possible open to the public in machine-readable formats. Later the same month, the government collected nearly 400 government application programming interfaces or APIs, which stream information directly to outside computers, websites and mobile apps.

The open data initiative is aimed partly at improving the quality of information available to consumers of everything from food and toothpaste to education, real estate and medical care. It’s also aimed at spurring private sector growth as digital entrepreneurs repackage and commoditize raw government data.

Thursday’s report was produced by a task force on “smart disclosure” chartered by the science and technology council in July 2011.  

Smart disclosure of government data can help consumers make smarter choices without being overwhelmed by doing research themselves, the council said.

“In some cases, the effort required to sift through all of the available information is so large that consumers default to decision making based on inadequate information,” the report said. As a result, they may overpay or miss out on a better product.

“Poorly organized or inaccessible information can also make consumer markets less efficient, less competitive, or less innovative,” the report said. “And, collectively, consumers’ uninformed decisions about topics such as higher education, energy consumption, or financial services can affect the nation’s competitiveness, security, and fiscal health.”

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