Americans use more government data than they think

A new report from Pew Research Center shows that a majority of Americans don’t trust the government, but plenty use its open data — often without realizing they’re doing so.

Just 23 percent of respondents in this nationally representative survey say they trust the federal government to be a good actor “most of the time.” That is only one out of five people. Of that minority, 76 percent believe government data can help public officials remain accountable, and 73 percent believe that data can help journalists report on the government.

The term “open government” was first used in the 1950s during congressional deliberations that led to the creation of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIAA). According to Pew, “open data” is “a subset of open government and a way to implement it,” something the Obama administration has made a top priority in order to present a more accountable and transparent government, the report says.


But one issue for advocates of open government and open data is that many Americans aren’t aware of how that data is used, and that such data supports several heavily-used businesses. Those include weather apps that a person can access directly from a smartphone, and anything that relies on geolocation data, like GPS, Uber and Lyft.

Of those surveyed, 68 percent owned a smartphone. Of that number:

  • 84 percent used weather apps
  • 81 percent used map apps for city navigation
  • 66 percent used an app to locate a nearby store, bar or restaurant
  • 31 percent used an app for information about public transportation
  • 14 percent used apps like Uber and Lyft

Despite that widespread use, only 9 percent of Americans believe that government data helps “a lot” with the development of new products and services among the private sector, and 41 percent believes it helps “somewhat.”