Leveraging Public Data For Competitive Purposes

The Freakonomics blog pretty much says it all:

The latest: importgenius.com, the brainchild of brothers Ryan and David Petersen, with Michael Kanko. They exploit customs reporting obligations and Freedom of Information requests to organize and publish — in real-time — the contents of every shipping container entering the United States.
From importgenius.com.
There’s a neat ticker on the bottom of their page showing a trickle of these data. Watch it for a few minutes: it’s mesmerizing and provides a sometimes beautiful window into the wonders of international trade.

Talk about a not-so-covert channel leaking what your business is up to on a daily basis. What the Petersens and Kanko are onto is yet another unintended consequence of globalization. It makes me wonder what other sources like this are out there and accessible via the Freedom of Information Act. Similarly, as one commenter on the above article asked, how soon before people try to game the system:

I wonder if something like this will lead to a rise in ‘creative’ customs declarations. Say a proxy company to take that new shipment of 22,000 digital thingies that are then immediately sold to Apple and thus mitigating the chances of someone predicting the street date of their latest offering

1 thought on “Leveraging Public Data For Competitive Purposes

  1. David Robinson has blogged about this general topic over at Freedom to Tinker. There’s also a forthcoming journal article on how the government can foster innovation by providing access to underlying data.
    See:
    http://www.freedom-to-tinker.com/?p=1307
    http://www.freedom-to-tinker.com/?p=1300
    http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1138083
    It’s an interesting topic, and the proper public policy direction is not immediately clear — particularly when personal information is involved.

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