Well, while some regions pursue closed approaches to access to information, there is an ongoing federal effort to actually spread openness when it comes to information and Moscow IT Department is one of the leading bodies in this regard. One of their latest projects is a spin on the "Open Data" principle and it's not like anything else they've ever done before - it's more of a meta-project, really. If before they've launched services aimed mostly at consumers - citizens of Moscow trying to solve their everyday problems, then this one has developers in mind. As the name suggests, it has something to do with data - official data released by federal and municipal administrative bodies. According to representatives of the IT department, the road to finalizing the project was a long one due to Russian public officials having a hard time of grasping the concept of releasing own data - and in a unified format, at that. That's right, this is not just a one-time thing to show how 'progressive' Moscow is - all data is release in machine-readable format and is constantly updated. That's where developers come in - people and companies are encouraged to use this machine-readable data in their web services and apps, manipulating information in a way which would benefit the end user. Basically, instead of maintaining a monopoly on web services for the city, the Moscow IT Department decided to throw everything the city has out in the open and let the best app win - a smart approach, really. The best part is, Moscow is not the only city to do that - I've previously talked with representatives of the Moscow IT Department and they confirmed that the agency maintains professional relations with other regions, who are inspired by what's happening in Moscow and want to do the same - city of Perm is next in line to launch a similar project. And by July 15th every single governmental agency has to give external access to its non-classified databases - that's over 500 data sets. The question - what happens next - will then be answered by developers, who might come up with new ways of handling this information in order to make living in Russia a little easier. Newspaper Izvestia talked with Andrey Zhulin, Director of Expert Analytics of the Executive Body Performance Analysis of the Higher School of Economics; he suggest one possible application - crime maps. He believes it will be of interst not just to regular citizens, but also real estate agents, analysts and city planners. Judging by international practice, this information allows effective calculation of property prices, the expert said. And I would like to add my two centes - this would be useful for tourism, even domestic tourism. If I had access to a crime map with not just city-wide information, but broken down to districts or even streets, I would find it easier to navigate my travels through Russia - you know, wouldn't want to find myself in the wrong neighborhood all of a sudden. A similar application would be traffic accident maps - some agencies already provide insurance working only in particular regions and in any case, knowing how accident-prone a particular street is cannot hurt. Not everyone shares giddy excitement about the project - for example, Yandex stated they don't plan to jump on the bandwagon until it becomes clear data is exhaustive and updated regularly. And, by the way, the Moscow IT Department did also launch a web service making use of the acquired open data – the ‘digital atlas’ of Moscow, located at eatlas.mos.ru. Sure, it looks like any sort of map already out there – Wikimapia, Google, Yandex – take your pick. But this one is not user generated, but built on dozens of datasets provided by federal and municipal offices and, dare I say, it’s pretty exhaustive. On the other hand, the interface feels a bit underdeveloped, counter-intuitive and generally buggy – but then again, this is basically just a demonstration of the possibilities the Open Data project opens for developers, and it’s working in test mode as it is. Unfortunately, it’s only available in Russian at the moment though – but if I were a tourist here, I would really benefit from a map like that. Or maybe you would be interested yourself in creating an app or a website like that? Or any other web service using the open data supplied by the Moscow IT Department? Well, head on to data.mos.ru and check out what Moscow has to offer – and remember, this is only the beginning and more data sets for the Russian capital and other cities will soon follow.
Speaking of governmental initiatives, this one’s a bit odd. Or isn’t, really, given the recent trends. Last week the Russian Federal Antimonopoly Service has announced plans of looking into social networks – specifically, their revenue streams. The thing is, everyone knows social networks are profitable in Russia – but that’s pretty much as specific as it gets. So the Antimonopoly Service decided to study the audience, monetization and breakdown of revenue streams of Russian social networks, including profits from online advertisement – this info will supposedly give the agency an idea on how this market functions and how it should be regulated – and, presumably, taxed. I guess I can understand the motivation – social networks are something new and, as such, operate within the framework of probably obsolete legislation. And it’s not an issue just in Russia, mind you. Internet companies are increasingly finding themselves pressed by the government to pay up. For example, Facebook is pretty efficient at using offshores to dodge the tax bullet – at the end of last year British newspaper The Guardian pointed out that Facebook paid just £2.9m or about $4.7 million in tax on foreign profits of more than £800m – or 1.4 billion dollars. To put it in perspective, that’s less than one percent. Oh, and if you were wondering why Facebook chose to locate their international headquarters in Ireland – there’s your answer. Apparently they’re using a tax maneuver. Companies which bought ads on any of Facebook's pages owned by non-US companies in 2011 paid Facebook Ireland. The Irish headquarters then funneled that money to other subsidiaries - such as, for example, companies located in the Cayman Islands; this lead to a $24 million loss in the European office which meant they did not have to pay a whopping amount of taxes. Previously, Bloomberg reported a similar scheme used by Google and Apple, which also funneled its profits through Ireland to off-shore entities. Long story short, European authorities are not happy about this and something may change very soon. Or take another example. For a while the French government has been in talks with Google and Amazon over how much these companies should spend on developing the architecture and infrastructure of the internet in France. As you might have guessed from the aforementioned story, these internet giants pay almost nothing to the French government in taxes. While it may seem unfair first, think about it The infrastructure is being used to access certain massive websites, akin to digital malls – so perhaps these companies should chip in a help maintain this infrastructure which facilitates client interaction? So France is looking at a number of different options. One idea of making companies pay up was proposed on behalf of news agencies and newspapers – Google was supposed to pay a portion from each ad they showed on search result pages with links to their websites. The latest report proposes ‘creative taxation’ schemes for US-based internet companies such as Google and Facebook. The idea of an extra tax on advertisement was put on the back-burner – instead, why not tax ‘data collection’? In a recent report commissioned by the French president, taxation of data collection is “justified on grounds that users of services like Google and Facebook are, in effect, working for these companies without pay by providing the personal information that lets them sell advertising”, according to The New York times and their sources. Google apparently is still reviewing the 200-page report and has not made any concrete statements, apart from hinting their not happy about such proposals. So yes, regulating social networks and internet companies is a universal problem, it seems – but back to Russia. The Federal Antimonopoly Service was quick to publish a clarification on their website, highlighting that they’re not trying to clamp down on social networks, as some bloggers initially thought – researching markets, especially new markets is part of the agency’s job, after all.
Speaking of social networks, Facebook turned nine! February 4th, 2004 the social network has been launched in its earliest form. It certainly has come a long way… but it appears more and more people are becoming disillusioned. No, I’m not talking about European public officials unhappy about lost tax revenue. I’m not even talking about people who envy social network activity of their Facebook friends – and a Germany research showed there are a lot of such users, comparing their lives with that of their digitalized peers. This time it’s about co-workers. A research conducted by AVG Technologies, who polled 4,000 adults in ten countries in relation to cyberbullying in the workplace. Can you take a guess?