Large companies are usually keen to keep their research about customers away from the public, but in a rare move, Nike has launched a portal allowing software developers to access live data from some of its customers.
The semi-private online portal allows authenticated developers to access "activity data" from users of the Nike+ Fuelband and Nike+ Running services, including their GPS location, distance run (or walked), pace, calories and goals achieved.
Nike says the information will be used by app developers to create new companies that offer exercise-related applications and services, such as the "Lose It!" website.
Last December, Nike launched an initiative called Nike+ Accelerator to encourage people to set up companies to leverage the data generated from its digital products.
It is part of an open data trend that sees mainly governments make their statistics and data available to others to build upon – provided they met minimal requirements, such as attribution.
From the National Public Toilet Map to Federal election boundaries, developers have already received shared access to Australian government data via data.gov.au.
That site was set up after the issuing of an open government declaration and the work of the Government 2.0 Taskforce. It now has 1124 data sets contributed by 114 agencies.
Recently, Australia's open data movement has been bolstered by commitments by the ACT, Queensland and NSW governments.
Experts say Australian businesses should seriously consider this kind of access, as the benefits could be significant.
Dr Nicholas Gruen, chief executive of Lateral Economics and a key figure in the Government 2.0 Taskforce, encourages organisations to consider open data as Google and Twitter have done via application programming interfaces (APIs).
"One of the things we know is some of the most successful companies in IT have been some of the most open companies," Gruen says.
He says that while there are many ways businesses can safely release data – for example, via "anonymisation", through public relations efforts or at an aggregated industry level – most businesses aren't ready to follow the Nike and government lead.
That's because they are worried about mitigating risks and protecting information perceived to be commercially sensitive.
"The really important question is how actually damaging will it be for [competitors] to have that information and what are the potential benefits of other people having that information?"
Tariq Khokhar, the World Bank's open data evangelist, says some organisations now combine data and information releases with competitions, such as Netflix, to elicit solutions from the public. Others are starting to open up their systems to help reduce fraud.
Khokhar describes two forms of private company data release: "data exhaust", where information such as purchasing habits or behaviour such as mobile phone usage is made anonymous then released in a form of data philanthropy, and "data for open innovation", such as the efforts by Nike.
"It's up to individual enterprises as to whether they open up access to their data," Khokhar says. "I think there are potential benefits for both the individual firms concerned and for society as a whole."
Open data gold
* In 2011, a report for the Australian National Data Service by Professor John Houghton of Victoria University's Centre for Strategic Economic Studies concluded the benefits of open data outweigh the costs of making it available.
* The Australian Bureau of Statistics' open publication of its data is believed to be worth about $25 million annually, or five times the cost of its publication.
* A Deloitte UK report estimated that 8400 datasets uploaded since 2009 to data.gov.uk could be worth about £16 billion ($24.1 billion) to the economy.
* The European Commission has estimated that open data can deliver €40 billion to the EU's economy each year.
* The provision of open licence weather data in the US provides an estimated 39-fold return on the initial investment.