TWO DECADES ago Microsoft was a byword for a technological walled garden. One of its bosses called free open-source programs a “cancer”. That was then. On April 21st the world’s most valuable tech firm joined a fledgling movement to liberate the world’s data. The company plans to launch 20 data-sharing groups by 2022 and give away some of its digital information, including data it has gathered on covid-19.
Microsoft is not alone in its newfound fondness for sharing in the age of the coronavirus. “The world has faced pandemics before, but this time we have a new superpower: the ability to gather and share data for good,” Mark Zuckerberg, the boss of Facebook, a social-media giant, wrote in the Washington Post on April 20th. Despite the EU’s strict privacy rules, some Eurocrats now argue that data-sharing could speed up efforts to fight the virus.
The case for sharing data predates the pandemic. The OECD, a club mostly of rich countries, reckons that if data were more widely exchanged, many states could enjoy gains worth 1-2.5% of GDP. The estimate is based on heroic assumptions (such as putting a number on opportunities for startups). But economists agree that readier access to data is broadly beneficial, because data are “non-rivalrous”: unlike oil, say, they can be used and re-used without being depleted, to power various artificial-intelligence...
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