In our book, The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data, we discussed where to find environmental spatial data and the merits of specific types of environmental data. One source that space did not permit us to include was the environmental resources available from the SAGE Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The data focuses on the categories of terrestrial ecosystems, hydrological systems, and climate, including such items as freight emissions in the state of Wisconsin, soil carbon and nitrogen samples, irrigated lands, and much more, both for Wisconsin and for the globe.
The holdings include some significant surprises, including east and southeast Asia urban expansion, global urban extents, land use, river discharges, crop lands, and much more.
This site is also the host of the Atlas of the Biosphere, a resource containing online maps and ArcGrid data sets about people, land use, ecosystems, and water resources. We examined this data set in our book but it is worth mentioning here because of its ease of use and rich data sets viewable online and as downloadable files.
Over the last two years we have written a number of posts on some of the issues surrounding personal information and data privacy; from UAVs (drones) to the secret lives of phones, the collection and reuse that information continue to challenge end users and customers. How much of our personal information are we willing to trade for access to products and services?
A recent ZDNet article by Jack Schofield reported the results of a Harris poll into corporate reputation and the responses from 18,000 American adults to six categories: emotional appeal, financial performance, products and services, social responsibility, vision and leadership and workplace environment. The survey indicated that 76% of those surveyed were concerned about the amount of personal information captured by large companies, including technology giants Apple, Google, Samsung, Microsoft and Amazon, and less than half (44%) reported that they trusted companies to act responsibly with that information. In the category Social Responsibility, the only technology company to appear in the top five was Microsoft, ahead of both Google and Apple.
How much of that mistrust materialises as lost sales or changing preferences? According to the poll company business practices are an increasingly important factor for customers, with 60% of those surveyed reporting that they researched companies before they considered engaging with them. It seems that technical reputation is not the only measure by which companies are judged and company ethics, in particular personal information policies and practices, now play a major role in influencing our choices.
US White House senior counselor John Podesta recently summarized an extensive review of big data and privacy that he led. Over 90 days, he met with academic researchers, privacy advocates, regulators, technology industry representatives, advertisers, and civil rights groups. The findings were presented on 1 May 2014 to the President and summarized in Mr Podesta’s report but the full 79-page report is also available. In the report, geospatial data is recognized as an important contributor to big data but does not receive special attention over other types of data. Nevertheless, the report provides a useful overview of the current opportunities of big data and the challenges it poses to privacy.
After discussing some of the technological trends making big data possible, the report then details the opportunities it presents: Saving lives (through monitoring infections in newborns), making the economy work better (through sensors in jet engines, monitoring of peak electrical demands), and making government work better (by being able to predict reimbursement fraud in insurance, for example). Next, the report raises some of the serious concerns that accompany big data, such as how to protect our privacy and how to make sure that it does not enable civil rights protections to be circumvented.
Recommendations from the report include advancing the proposed Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, passing National Data Breach legislation, extending privacy protections to non-US persons, ensuring data collected on students in school is used for educational purposes, expanding technical expertise to stop discrimination, and amending the electronic communications privacy act. In short, the report recognizes the immense benefit that big data brings, but also the challenges, and makes specific recommendations for governments to deal with those challenges.
Crowd sourced data is a topic we have covered a number of times on Spatial Reserves, from recording environmental data to providing geographic base data for areas affected by natural disasters and other emergency situations. Attention turns this week to the notoriously difficult task of accurately predicting the weather. While recent advances in forecasting have improved the reliability of many 5-day weather reports, predicting more extreme weather events such as flooding and longer terms weather patterns remains a complex and challenging task.
One possible additional source of data to help provide on-the-spot updates to support real-time monitoring of meteorological phenomena is crowd sourced weather reporting. While there are an increasing number of mobile apps available that allow people to post updates on current local weather conditions, such as Weddar and Wezzoo, Rolf Hut, a scientist from the Delft University of Technology, has proposed a novel solution for the problem of collecting rainfall data – the humble umbrella.
In a recent report by the BBC, Hut argues that the information collected by smart umbrellas could help offset the rainfall data deficit that has resulted from the declining numbers of maintained weather gauge stations. With an in-built sensor (an acoustic rain gauge) connected to a mobile phone via Bluetooth, once the umbrella was opened it would start to transmit real-time rainfall and location data. There’s a rather cyclical dimension to the whole process: cloud > rain > umbrella >sensor> data > phone > cloud.
Although still at the prototype stage, the early results are promising and the data could potentially be used to augment the data collected by existing rainfall radar and satellite measurement systems. However, as with most crowd sourced data initiatives, simply having access to more data doesn’t necessarily improve the situation, and in some cases can even hinder the analysis. The quality of the data has to assured for that data to add value to the process.