Why is there no Google Earth in Europe?

As part of my recent lecturing tour in Europe, I was invited to speak at AVICCA, Associations des Villes Cablees de France, an association with public officials concerning with broadening access to information, originally cable TV but now also broadband access.

An issue which came up, clearly showing frustration, was how Europe was lagging behind in providing such services such as Google. One of the reasons is the short-term cost recovery mentality, so that valuable public information, such as the geographic data collected by European governments is sold to a few companies, and not made available to the public at large, who funded it.

This is well explained by Peter Weiss in a recommended essay, Borders in Cyberspace:

“Many nations are embracing the concept of open and unrestricted access to public sector information — particularly scientific, environmental, and statistical information of great public benefit. Federal information policy in the US is based on the premise that government information is a valuable national resource and that the economic benefits to society are maximized when taxpayer funded information is made available inexpensively and as widely as possible. This policy is expressed in the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 and in Office of Management and Budget Circular No. A-130, “Management of Federal Information Resources.”[1] This policy actively encourages the development of a robust private sector, offering to provide publishers with the raw content from which new information services may be created, at no more than the cost of dissemination and without copyright or other restrictions.

In other countries, particularly in Europe, publicly funded government agencies treat their information holdings as a commodity used to generate short-term revenue. They assert monopoly control on certain categories of information to recover the costs of its collection or creation. Such arrangements tend to preclude other entities from developing markets for the information or otherwise disseminating the information in the public interest.

In the US, open and unrestricted access to public sector information has resulted in the rapid growth of information intensive industries particularly in the geographic information and environmental services sectors. Similar growth has not occurred in Europe due to restrictive government information practices. As a convenient shorthand, one might label the American and European approaches as ‘open access’ and ‘cost recovery’, respectively. The cost recovery model is now being challenged on a variety of grounds.”

If we want to reverse this situation in Europe, we would do well to support the Open Data movement, and in particular the new European campaign for the availability of public geodata:

“On 23 January 2006, the Council of European Union has formally adopted a common position on the Inspire Directive, which stipulates that Geographic Data collected by National Mapping Agencies all over Europe should be owned by such agencies and not by the Public. While a lot of datasets are available in the United States under a public domain licence, little geographic data is available under open access terms in Europe but is instead made available at monopoly prices by national mapping agencies. Restricted access to geographic data for the public and businesses due to high costs and narrow licenses means fewer services and fewer jobs in Europe.

If the European Parliament does not adequately amend or, failing that, reject this directive proposal, INSPIRE will entrench a policy of charging citizens for information they have already paid to collect, enforced by state copyright over geographic information.”

1 Comment Why is there no Google Earth in Europe?

  1. Avatarjames

    Fortunately there is a strong openGeo movement based in Europe. The openStreetMap team is based in and originated in the UK. Others are following suit. There are also some interesting GEO players that exist in Europe that have not sold themselves to Google. I expect they are low-key and dotted over the continent. I know of one in the Netherlands who Google approached who have some of the most advanced 3D view technology around using GEO data and streetmaps combined with 3D models and other data overlays. What Europe seems to have is a fragmented community separated by language barriers.

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