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The Taxman Crawleth

by Matt Manning

A recent article in the SF Chronicle gave a vivid, very visual, demonstration of the power access to “public” data can have in municipal policy debates. The story covered companies that match buyers and sellers of services often heavily taxed by municipalities: taxis and hotels. Specifically, it looked at their impact on municipal tax coffers and public policy goals.

San Francisco residents, like those in many major metro areas, are concerned about their neighbors turning into de facto hotels. This has sparked the mining and analysis of data on short-term rentals. Making sense of the situation required the deployment of Connotate’s data extraction technology to gather data on “public” rental listings. The results were overlaid with government data on licensed local hotels and B&Bs.

This shows that technology the private sector uses for competitive intelligence on market share and pricing is destined to cross over into the public sector. The ROI for just one city to compile of a list of tax dodgers for local tax assessors in this fashion is huge. An investment of $100K, for instance, could easily identify thousands of individuals owing millions in taxes.

This isn’t a first, either. Few may remember Pictometry, started in the 1980s. That company used aerial photography and the storage capacity of then-revolutionary CD-ROMs to help local tax authorities identify taxable construction projects not noticeable at street level but clearly visible from above. Again, an emerging technology found an eager government market because the returns were so compelling.

Never known for being able to move quickly, local governments have taken a few years to react. Still, with the returns on their investments in data analysis potentially massive, we can expect them to be hungry for technology that helps them to do their jobs better, cheaper, and faster.

posted by Shyamali Ghosh on October 23, 2014

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