When JSON Schema Is Seen As Power

In a 30 year career as a database professional I’ve seen some extraordinary ways in which owning and controlling data is associated with power. Those who have the data leverage it against those who do not have it. Losing control means losing power, so people do whatever they can to stay in control, protecting the spreadsheets and databases at all costs. After 30 years of seeing this play out over and over again, I thought I’d seen it all, but sadly in an API era I’m just seeing new incarnations of data being wielded by those in power.

I recently came across an example where a company was holding back a series of JSON schema for a variety of public datasets, and standards in use as part of some government systems. From what I can tell company had been brought in to handle the systems and open data work a few years back, and with each version of the software and schema they slowly began to maintain tighter control over the schema, while they were also being mandated to be more open with the data–shifting from being controlling over the data, to being controlling of the schema.

They see the ability to be able to validate data, API requests and responses as something only a handful of people should be able to do. If you have the ability to validate, and say, “yes that data or API is compliant”, you are now in a position of power. This groups was mandated to be open with the data, allowing it flow freely between open source and proprietary systems, keeping in sync with laws and regulations, but they had found another way to remain as gatekeeper–I think this is what some folks call innovation, and thinking out of the box.

In my world, it is just another example of how power will always find ways to keep data from flowing, no matter how it learns to be perceived as playing nicely in an open data and API world. Many companies are still playing by the old rules and just hoarding, locking, up and controlling data–refusing to play along in the API game. However it is fascinating to see how power can shape shift and find new ways to protect its interest in this new landscape. After 30 years of doing this I am not surprised, but I do have to call it out when I see it because, well it is not right. Be open and share your schema, and let everyone be able to validate that data is what it should be.