On February 11, the U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy announced the launch of Consumer.Data.gov, the 16th community on the data repository Data.gov. This new “Smart Disclosure Data Community” is a “first-of-its-kind centralized platform containing over 400 smart disclosure data sets and resources from dozens of agencies across government.” The announcement defines smart disclosure as “the act of making potentially useful data more readily available—both to consumer directly and to innovators who can use it to build tools that help consumers make smart decisions.” As noted on the new site, Consumer.Data.gov is a major step in the administration’s continued embrace of smart disclosure initiatives.
“The United States committed to promoting the use of Smart Disclosure in the U.S. Open Government National Action Plan. In September 2011, the White House Office of Management and Budget released guidance to agencies on informing consumers through Smart Disclosure. A dedicated Task Force on Smart Disclosure was also established under the National Science and Technology Council.”
The scope of Consumer.Data.gov could help citizen engagement with the portal surpass that of other Open Data initiatives. Joseph Marks notes that the new consumer community features “datasets ranging from census reports to a feed of child product recalls,” unlike most previous Data.gov communities that have been “more narrowly focused on a field such as health, energy and oceans.” While those more specific communities are undoubtedly important and yield valuable insights and innovations, the categories of available data on Consumer.Data.gov—such as education, energy, environment, finance, safety and transportation—contain potentially useful information for practically every American citizen.
While consumers can obtain valuable information directly from the portal, like Open Data projects more generally, Consumer.Data.gov is also meant to act as an information hub for the creation of new innovations. “Using the Community, entrepreneurs and innovators can access free Federal data to create the consumer applications, products, and services of the future—all in one convenient location.” In addition to the available raw data sets, the site features a number of smart disclosure apps that have already leveraged available data to help consumers make better choices, including: College Navigator, Alternative Fuel Locator and Find a Health Center.
Consumer.Data.gov makes clear that, even beyond new innovations and accordant economic activity, increasing consumer intelligence through smart disclosure is about more than altruism—“poor [consumer] choices reduce overall market efficiency and economic growth. Properly functioning consumer markets depend on consumers’ ability to make informed choices.” Moreover, “consumers’ decisions about higher education, energy, consumption, and mortgages, for example, can affect the nation’s competitiveness, security, and fiscal health.” So while Consumer.Data.gov is an important step, “Going forward, innovators inside and outside government face a great opportunity—and challenge—to realize the full potential of Smart Disclosure to empower consumers to make better choices.”