April 12, 2016 Hatem Ben Yacoub

Opening up company registers, then what ? #ODBarometer

The Web Foundation published yesterday a sneak preview on the 3rd edition of the Open Data Barometer mainly related to the latest #PanamaPapers leak and the status of Open Data company register worldwide. The full barometer however will be fully published by April 21st.

World

According to the data published, we can see that Australia is ranked the first, followed by UK and Norway, but only Australia in the whole index is publishing company register in an open format ! And you can see below how the world looks almost all in red, except very small number of countries.

Africa

There are always exceptions, and these exceptions are sometimes very interesting to study. For example in Africa if we look inside we will notice a small green point : Benin !

The datasets available in Benin are from 2013, in PDF format, not updated, but most notable thing is that these datasets are missing a lots of data, only few shareholders are mentioned, some companies do not even have a name. That’s the green point in Africa, so you can imagine how things are going in other countries. There are obviously some efforts to make these data available, and I can mention for example Tunisia that published last week the company register dataset in open data, even if from first glance the datasets looks incomplete, but responsible confirmed that it will be updated regularly and it will be completed in the next few days.

Europe

In Europe also the situation is not really green, however, there are a good number of countries that have a score of fifty and higher which mean that data is available in a machine readable format, however it remain locked for some reasons.

Asia

In Asia you will be surprised as you can see countries such Kazakhstan or Indonesia in green with a score of 55 respectively, but all other countries seems to agree for keeping the same score of fifteen everywhere !

What’s next ?

The study found that only 1% of countries worlwide publish open company ownership data, that’s too low right ? But guess what will happen if 99% of countries will publish their company register as Open Data ?…

Nothing of course ! Because even if the company register is published, only top level information are included which will generally lead to nothing interesting.

For example shareholding information are not generally published, so we will get just a list of companies with creation date, location, etc. Even if we will be able to get shareholding details, owning a company in a tax haven is not necessarily illegal. It could, in certain circumstances, lead to some interesting discoveries, the case of #PanamaPapers, such as someone who passed away since 2005 and still creating companies and attending meetings !

The first barrier for making any discoveries with such information is privacy, since we are talking about personal information. Some countries will not make such data available, or possibly replace names with numbers.

Some persons have their names magically misspelled or changed, so even if you want to cross-check data between all these databases you won’t be able to find anything interesting. Unless if you are excepting from a thieves to let you track them easily. You should be dreaming !

So why Opening up company registers ?

In my humble opinion, opening up company register worldwide will not have any impact on transparency or anti-corruption around the world. However, it could have great impact on economy and that’s the most interesting part that countries should focus on it.

Once the data is there, the possibilities are unlimited, and that’s the right time to start talking about data-driven innovation. In that time OpenData will have a huge impact on the world economy, but only if the datasets published have very good quality.

So next thing that should be added to Open Data Barometer for example, is a measure of dataset quality. Which is not very hard to measure once the data is available as OpenData, but a research should be conducted in this purpose to define what to measure exactly and how to measure it.

Graphics used in this blog could be found here, and original document could be downloaded from the Web Foundation website here.

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About the Author

Hatem Ben Yacoub Energy Engineer, Entrepreneur, ICT & eGov Consultant with over 15 years experience. Independent Open Data expert.

(HBY) Consultancy