Corporations and Transparency: Improving Consumer Markets and Increasing Public Accountability
In "Transparency in Politics and the Media: Accountability and Open Government," Nigel Bowles, James T. Hamilton, David A. Lev, eds. I.B. Tauris/Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

Gurin, Joel and Beth Noveck

From cuneiform to card catalogs, people have always recorded data. But now we have tools to collect information faster than ever before. The proliferation of data includes statistics collected by governments about the economy, such as unemployment data or data that we supply on our tax returns and patent filings. When the media refer to the era of “Big Data,” they are including the vast amounts of information we also passively generate.  Our mobile phones and cars contain sensors to track and report our location, position, acceleration, and temperature.  The smart meters in our homes reveal when we turn on the heat or hot water. Companies increasingly gather data about our shopping and web browsing habits. The world’s storehouse of digital information is growing at the rate of five trillion bits per second.   

What is revolutionary is not only the quantity of data but also how we can use computers to search, sort, compare, aggregate, visualize, and track data. This kind of analysis can help us understand more about ourselves, our communities, and our environment, realizing the benefits of what has been called the quantified self  and community.  But these benefits can only be realized if data are available in a form that computers can ingest and process.  Data must be open –freely accessible and computable. When data are open, anyone can create sophisticated visualizations, models and analyses as well as spot mistakes or mix and mash across datasets to yield new insights.