#Flashhacks: an evening on company data and corporate networks

It was over donuts and sushi that Interhacktives found out more about corporate networks and how to access company data.

Last Wednesday, a pack of 13 of us attended the meetup “Flash Hacks: Map the Banks”, an initiative by the London-based organisation Open Corporates that aims to create a more accurate picture of the financial sector. The initiative has a point: the corporate world has a huge impact on the wider world. With the financial crisis costing society over 10 trillion dollars, they argue that businesses should be held to account in the same way as public bodies and their data should be available to view freely.

The participants were divided into two groups: those who knew how to code went to write the necessary scrapers to help in the task, and those who didn’t were taken on a tour of Open Corporates’ tools and database.

Here are some of the tools, which can be useful to journalists for sourcing and verifying company data:

Open Corporates’ database

The organisation has information available for more than 84 million companies from more than 100 jurisdictions. It is possible to search for companies, directors and filter by jurisdiction.

Corporate network and Octopus

Since 2012, Open Corporates has been working on making company networks public, what the organisation calls the “Holy Grail of business information”.  The tool is great for understanding the complexity of multinationals and what ramifications they have. They create visualisations from data, for example from the Federal Reserve about banking companies in the US. In this one below, it is possible to find out that Goldman Sachs consists of more than 4,000 separate corporate entities all over the world. Open Corporates moreover has a tool called Octopus that allows anyone interested to contribute to creating new networks.

OpenCorporatesVisualization
Source: Open Corporates

Who Controls It

A recently launched tool, proof-of-concept, open source beneficial ownership register that would make it possible for anyone to check who or what controls a company. Who Controls It is still a prototype, but it sounds like a promising tool for checking possible ramifications of a business’ activities and for investigating fraud and money-laundering.

Open Corporates APIs

For those who know a bit of programming, these tools might be useful. The organisation has two APIs: the Rest API and the Open Refine Conciliation API. They allow access to the organisation’s full database on a more granular level and make it possible to match company names to external data. Rest API is for retrieving information from the Open Corporates database. The Open Refine Conciliation API allows Google Refine users to match company names to legal corporate entities. It is especially useful when you have an existing spreadsheet with many different companies and you need to reconcile yours with other datasets.

 

The Map the Banks initiative is ongoing: if you code and want to help, the organisation has a list of missions to be completed. At the moment, 10% of the missions are done.

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