Why Google still can’t use Victoria’s bushfire data

Sometimes a policy change isn’t enough to get the intended outcome and agencies must go the extra step. Copyright hurdles over Victoria’s bushfire data have been overcome, but there’s little incentive to change the state’s IT systems to help app developers create value.

Six years after the Country Fire Authority website crashed under the burden of too many people trying to find information about the Black Saturday bushfires, Google is still unable to put Victorian bushfire data on its disaster mapping website.

Since Google released its Crisis Map eighteen months ago — featuring real-time information on bushfires around Australia such as location, size and alert level — data from Victoria and Western Australia has been conspicuously absent from the site.

” … the brown cardigans said ‘oh no, you can’t have that information, that’s crown copyright’. It took some intervention at the highest levels to actually release that data.”

IT News reported in 2013 that this was due to Victoria’s fire agencies refusing to release their data under a Creative Commons licence, meaning Google, considered to be a commercial user, was unable to use it. Fires in Victoria are managed by three bodies: the CFA, Metropolitan Fire Brigade and the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.

But while the licensing question has seemingly been resolved, with emergency agencies having reached an agreement with Google, the problem is now that the government’s data formatting is incompatible with Google’s systems. The initial licensing dispute centred on government concern around whether Google would pass on all fire information in its entirety, though that is not a condition of the agreement.

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