We at AirGradient are on a quest to democratize air quality monitoring with our open source, open hardware and open data approach. We strongly believe that accurate air quality monitoring should be affordable and that air quality data should be seen as a public good.
Recently, I was surprised to see in the terms and conditions of one of the most popular low-cost outdoor air quality monitor the following:
Sharing of Sensor Data With Third Parties.
Data collected by COMPANYNAME Sensors may only be shared with COMPANYNAME and third-parties approved of in writing by COMPANYNAME. Pre-approved third-parties are listed as available “Data Processors” in the Sensor registration process. You may not share COMPANYNAME Data to third-parties outside of those listed without the prior express written permission of COMPANYNAME.
Further down in the terms, the company explicitly claims ownership on the air quality data that the monitor collects.
I do not want to name the company because in general I do like their products, and they have contributed quite a lot to raise awareness that low-cost air quality monitors have a significant role besides much more expensive reference stations.
However, I do not think it’s right to charge people for hardware and then restrict the use of the very main feature that the device provides - Air Quality Data.
Why do I think so?
Restricting data sharing with third parties, will result in less available information to the public. In times of high air pollution, e.g. with the current wildfires in Canada, access to air pollution data is critical for health protection.
Restricting the usage of data also hinders innovation as companies and research institutions cannot fully utilize the data. Innovations such as effective real-time alert systems for air quality cannot be implemented by 3rd parties (including governments) if they are not allowed to use the data.
Another area with huge potential is using machine learning for air quality forecasting which can help not only the public in general but also emergency responders e.g. fire fighters. For this, access to large sets of data is very important.
I also just don’t think its morally right that you pay to own a device but then can’t fully use it due to some legal terms.
Is this part of a larger trend?
Somehow this fits into the general trend to force people into proprietary ecosystems, subscriptions, closed data standards and making devices hard to repair. We at AirGradient believe that this is not good for consumers and society in general and want to show with our open-hardware air quality monitors and kits that there are alternatives.