Over the past decade, governments and transparency advocates have hailed ‘open government data’ as a driving force of democracy that promotes principles of transparency, accountability, and participation. While open government data’s branding implies its democratic potential, accompanying rhetoric espoused by government officials suggests that open government initiatives also yield measurable economic benefits. This research paper examines current ‘data-driven transparency’ initiatives and their effects on the society, including the formation of a ‘data public’ and the resulting ascendance of neoliberal politics.
I begin by discussing the political climate that influenced transparency advocacy and open government data directives. Next, I define transparency and assess its misguided conflation with accountability in open government contexts. The subsequent section covers ‘back room’ details of data production processes, tracing how governments actively curate ‘raw data’ to reflect existing social structures and political interests. Then, I consider how the participatory aspect of open government data perpetuates inequities created by the digital divide. My final section discusses the consequences of the data public, such as outsourcing labor to individual entrepreneurs, commodification of public information, and the formation of public private partnerships conducive to the politics of neoliberalism.