Keeping tabs on our corporate overlords through open data

OpenCorporates collects, collates and makes freely available government data on corporations from around the world to increase transparency and accountability

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How open is company data in the U.S.? Not so open

Image credit: OpenCorporates

Think you know about the corporate world? Test your knowledge by seeing if you knew the following facts:

Interesting, yes? Those are a sample of things that can be learned from OpenCorporates, a site which is aiming to be the definitive source of open data about the corporate world. 

Saying that “accountability is not possible without data,” OpenCorporates has collected data on more than 60 million companies spread across 80 countries and states. They gather these data from governments all over the world and clean them up via automated and human means. The data are made accessible in machine readable formats (JSON, XML) through two APIs under an Open Database License.

OpenCorporates has ranked a number of countries around the world based on how open they are with corporate data. Countries are scored for openness based on a number of factors like whether corporate information is freely searchable, openly licensed and freely available. Using their methodology, the United Kingdom is the country that’s the most open with its corporate data, followed by Norway, the Czech Republic and Albania; the United States was ranked #12.

One of OpenCorporates major contributions has been the creation of an open data corporate network platform. Using data from all these different governments, they’re able to connect the dots and untangle the web of complex corporate networks. While this is still very much a work in progress, you can already see graphical representations of the corporate family trees of some big companies, like Starbucks, the Gap and Barclays Bank. They’ve also created some fascinating geographical visualizations of corporate networks.

As you can imagine, dealing with all that data, which comes in a variety of formats, is no small task, which is why OpenCorporates is currently looking for help with some of their data cleanup. They’ve created an SEC Filings game, in which you can help them to decipher raw corporate data collected from the SEC. It’s the first of what will be a number of such “games” to crowdsource the deciphering of raw data.

If you live in a country from which they are not yet collecting data, they’d also love your help in finding out what data is available and where. If you’re interested in making the corporate data in your own country more open, shoot them an email at info@opencorporates.com.

I, for one, welcome anyone keeping tabs on our corporate overlords.

Read more of Phil Johnson's #Tech blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Phil on Twitter at @itwphiljohnson. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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