50+ Reasons Not to Release Open Data

For the background on this document, see this blog post.

Update: We have rolled out these rebuttals as blog posts, which you can view here: https://sunlightfoundation.com/taxonomy/term/why-open-data/ 

Thanks so much to all of you who contributed ideas for this project throughout its evolution! We couldn't have done it without the help of so many different perspectives, and we feel the end result is richer for it. Join the continuing conversation with #whyopendata.

Index of categories (click to jump to a topic):

Apathy/Confusion: The Problem of Newness

a. No one cares [1 - 3]

b. Why do this? [4 - 11]

The Challenges of Integrating New Systems (Or, Rage Against the Bureaucracy)

c. It's hard [12 - 18]

d. It's expensive [19 - 22]

People Power: Staff(ing) Concerns

e. It's not my job [23 - 25]

f. We don't have the people to do that [26 - 27]

Heavy Hitters: Legality, Security, Accuracy, and Privacy

g. We can't legally do that [28 - 31]

h. It will be misunderstood / misused / it's not accurate [32 - 37]

i. Privacy [38]

Open Data as a Work (Already?) in Progress (and Other Excuses)

j. It's already public [39 - 41]

k. Say what? / Misc. [42 - ##]

Apathy/Confusion: The Problem of Newness

No one cares

  1. Why would we do this?
  1. You mean people are actually interested in this?

  1. No one cares
  1. There is a lack of public interest
  2. There are few public requests for data to be open/for data in general
  3. Government is boring
  4. No one would be interested in it

  1. We don’t have community support
  1. We don’t have civic hackers

Why do this?

  1. There’s no clear use for {insert specific type of data here} 

  1. I don't know what you could possibly need that for
  1. How would someone even use that kind of data?

  1. What kind of data do you want?

  1. We need more proven results before we can open data

  1. The old system works 

  1. We don’t want to have you (academic researcher) doing research for research sake. We want your research to benefit us directly, otherwise we don’t want to give you our data.

  1. It would just confuse people.

  1. We should really be selling this.

The Challenges of Integrating New Systems (Or, Rage Against the Bureaucracy)

It's hard

  1. It’s hard 
  1. I don’t know how to start
  2. I don’t know how to engage my government/my boss on this issue
  3. I don’t know who to talk to about it
  4. I don’t know how to organize on this issue

  1. We don't know how
  1. I honestly haven't ever heard of an API or (insert other data term here)
  2. You’ll need to write custom software / our system can’t do that (Getting access to Police incident logs from a computer aided dispatch system

  1. We don’t know how to address our backlog
  1. We don't know how to address our archives

  1. We won’t be able to keep up! / We don't have the time 
  1. I don’t have time/no one will help me
  2. There will be unending data release
  3. … unending cost
  4. … exhaustion
  5. Our staff can’t handle new software/training/processes
  6. We don’t have the technology
  7. We don’t have a website
  8. We don't have the servers for this
  9. We would have to take our entire production system offline for a couple of days to program the system to get the data you want.

  1. There’s too much data

  1. It's unfamiliar   
  1. I honestly don’t know what open data is
  2. We don’t have data
  3. I don’t know what data is available that can be opened

  1. It will take too much of our time.

It's expensive 

  1. It’s expensive / We don't have the budget
  1. It requires expensive software
  2. It would be costly to provide copies of data in open formats
  3. It would require a lot of staff time
  4. It would require new processes and staff training
  5. Keeping everything updated would be costly

  1. We’re a small town/city/county/state/country

  1. We have a tight budget right now

  1. My Professional Incentives are to NOT Share
  1. When I share my work or products publically, I either have to take an additional time-consuming step or potentially end up creating new work that doesn’t actually lead to any personal rewards.  Will I get paid more if I open government data?  Will I get promoted faster?  Will I be able to leave work earlier or receive good recognition from my supervisors?  The answer to all of these questions is usually “No”.  If open data is not part of a compensated job function, there shouldn’t be any reasonable expectation that it will get done.

People Power: Staff(ing) Concerns

It's not my job

  1. It's not my job
  1. That's someone else's job 

  1. My boss hasn't told me to and you're not my boss

  1. My bosses/the politicians don’t like it

We don't have the people to do that 

  1. We don’t have/can’t afford a CTO/CDO/CIO/other staffer to do that

  1. We don't have anyone who knows how to do that

Heavy Hitters: Legality, Security, Accuracy, and Privacy

We can't legally do that

  1. We don’t have the legal authority to make open data/records

  1. It's illegal

  1. It's proprietary
  1. We don't have the rights to do that 

  1. It's not classified, but we don't think it would be good PR to open this 

It will be misunderstood/misused

  1. If we put the data out there in bulk, people will alter it
  1. Hackers will do stuff with it 
  2. People can steal it
  3. The data will be mishandled or misinterpreted 
  4. We can’t make sure the government will still own the information if it’s open
  5. People might misuse it 

  1. If we share our data/code, we’ll be hacked

  1. It might be presented in ways that result in people misunderstanding it
  1. The media will misreport

  1. People don’t understand my data.  
  1. It’s complex/magical/for experts

  1. The data source is a mess 
  1. It will be hard to parse and put online
  2. Releasing it like this will make us look bad 

  1. The data might have errors or mistakes and could misinform the public
  1. We're not even sure how accurate the data is, so we don't see the point in sharing it
  2. There are problems with the data


  1. It's classified
  2. We're worried about the mosaic effect.  
  3. We don't want any perception at all that the government is collecting information about the American people

Open Data as a Work (Already?) in Progress (and Other Excuses) (Or, I don't think that word means what you think it means)

It's already public

  1. It’s already public
  1. Anyone can access records during working hours at our government building
  2. It's available on LexisNexis or through another provider / You can buy it from X company for a fee

  1. That’s what FOIA is for

  1. We make enough available now
  1. We are an open government

Say what? / Misc.

  1.  But we released APIs!
  1. We’re more interested in APIs

  1. Oh, you mean make a data portal? We have one of those.

  1. How can we verify the authenticity of the data?

  1. We spent a lot of [time, staff-power, resources, etc.] collecting this data

  1. Our agency is making money from selling the data

  1. Someone will repackage and sell the information

  1. That would really piss off industry 

  1. We want to control who uses it and what gets done with it (even if it means nothing is done with it)

  1. Our competition will be able to do more with it than we do with it

  1. The federal government/other overlapping agency already has our data
  1. Another layer of government is already collecting this data -- get it from them, not us

  1. That would really piss off Congress  

  1. It’s not a good time

  1.  Moving too quickly may make us go too far and then be unable to return

  1. Data being used by privileged technologists and educated communities creates a further divide to access to information

  1. This just isn’t a priority now

  1. It's pending/not final/in progress

  1. We lost it (the data)  / we don't have it

Additional reasons to potentially address:

From the document "Concerns about opening up data, and responses which have proved effective," available here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1nDtHpnIDTY_G32EMJniXaOGBufjHCCk4VC9WGOf7jK4/mobilebasic?pli=1 

We’ll get spam

Our lawyers want to make a custom license[d]

If we publish this data, people might sue us

We want people to come direct to us so we know why they want the data[g]