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Archive for October, 2019

Research tying spatial data to resiliency and development goals

October 27, 2019 Leave a comment

One goal of this blog and our book is to raise awareness and action to develop data sets, data standards, and data portals so that decisions will be increasingly made with geospatial information.  One of the chief challenges to this is the persistent lack of geospatial information.  It isn’t just “us” as the GIS practitioners talking with each other about this.  As far back as 1992, Goodchild, Haining and others were pointing out this very thing in their article in the International Journal of GIS.

More recently, research studies have appeared that tie spatial data to much broader resiliency and development initiatives–specifically, that the lack of data is hindering some much broader planet-wide goals.   A white paper entitled Transforming Our World:  Geospatial Information: Key to Achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development ties the need for geospatial data to meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals.  In yet another example, both of the following studies indicate that the lack of data is one of the biggest obstacles to progress toward the UN development goals.

  • United Nations Independent Expert Advisory Group (UN). 2014. A World That Counts: Mobilising the Data Revolution for Sustainable Development. A Report to the UN Secretary General. New York, NY: United Nations, p. 28.
  • Stuart, E., E. Samman, W. Avis, and T. Berliner. 2015. The data revolution: finding the missing millions. ODI Research Report 03. London: Overseas Development Institute, p. 51.

The following study states that advances in research on resilience and vulnerability are hampered by access to reliable data.

  • Barrett, C. B. and D.D. Headey. 2014. Measuring resilience in a risky world: Why, where, how, and who? 2020 Conference Brief, 1. May 17-19, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Washington, D.C: International Food Policy Research Institute.

The biological and conservation community has been particularly active in this area, pointing out the unequal distribution of biodiversity data across the globe, by region, over time, and also in the coverage of certain taxa and ecosystems, such as in the following articles.

  • Amano, T., Sutherland, WJ.  2013.  Four barriers to the global understanding of biodiversity conservation: Wealth, language, geographical location, and security.  Proceedings of the Royal Society B  280.  (article 20122649)
  • Gaiji, S., Chavan, V., Ariño, AH., Otegui, J., Hobern, D., Sood, R., Robles, E.  2013.  Content assessment of the primary biodiversity data published through GBIF network: Status, challenges, and potentials.  Biodiversity Informatics 8(94):  172.
  • Osawa, T., Jinbo, U, Iwasaki, N.  2014.   Current status and future perspective on “Open Data” in biodiversity science, Japan.  Japanese Journal of Ecology 64:  153-162.
    If you have others to add to this list, please comment and share!

    The lack of geospatial information hinders the ability to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals and other major global initiatives.  —Photograph by Joseph Kerski.

Teaching Location Privacy and Resolution with a Big Pixel Image

October 13, 2019 Leave a comment

Ever since those ultra-high-resolution “gigapan” images began appearing from Microsoft and other sources a decade ago, I have been fascinated by them for their use in education.  Today, I frequently use the following image taken off of the Oriental Pearl Tower in China (at 468m, the tallest tower in China from 1994-2007):   http://sh-meet.bigpixel.cn/?from=groupmessage&isappinstalled=0     This image, compiled from billions of pixels, is amazing in its resolution.  A video on how I teach with it is here. 

pixel1

Big pixel image from Oriental Pearl Tower in China–initial view.

I have, for example, included this image in a university cartography and geo-visualization course that I teach online.  I first ask the students to examine the cultural geography, assessing the land use, zoning, traffic, and other aspects.  Then, I ask them to examine the physical geography–the terrain, the vegetation, the river winding through the city, and so on.

Third, I ask them to consider the resolution, reflecting on what we have discussed thus far in the course.  I ask them: Can you see inside office buildings and residential windows? Can you read license plates on cars?  Can you determine what pedestrians look like?  I ask them to think about:  Do your answers and the resolution of this image bring up any ethical concerns?

pixel2

Big pixel image from the Oriental Pearl Tower in China–detailed view. 

Fourth, I ask them to consider another topic we have discussed:  The Internet of Things and our connected world.  Where does information come from?  Increasingly, it is from webcams, sensors, and humans.  We have a chat about face recognition software and how none of the faces in this image (as of this writing) are blurred.  What are the implications for blurring and not blurring?  Finally, I ask them to take a random sample of 10 people in the gigapixel image.  How many people are holding a tablet or smartphone?  What implications does this have on information, and for society?

–Joseph Kerski

Faces to Places: Location tracking and Facial Recognition Technology

October 7, 2019 Leave a comment

We have written many times over the years about insidious and invasive location tracking practices; the apps and devices we use that capture our location information until an outcry forces a rethink about personal rights and institutional ‘transparency’. Just when we start to think it’s all under control, another reason to be concerned emerges. Facial Recognition Technology (FRT) is now widely used in many countries, with live tracking via CCTV infrastructure now common practice. By comparing a database of existing photos with live images of crowds and individuals, possible matches at specific locations are flagged for further investigation.

Source: Skitterphoto (https://www.pexels.com)

Previously mobile devices – phones, tablets, activity trackers – could identify an individual at a particular location. That information could prove the device was at a location but not necessarily that the person owning the device was also present. With facial recognition large organisations and public authorities can now link a face to a place without the need to rely on the device-in-the-middle.

However, once again the widespread adoption of this technology has raced ahead of the legal safeguards governing its use. With frequent claims of the misuse of personal information, such as the recently reported case at London’s Kings Cross station, bias and the potential for misidentification (American Bar Association report) many groups are now calling for a review of FRT. San Francisco became the first US city this year to ban the use of FRT by its government although private companies are exempt from the regulation. The Chinese government recently announced plans to regulate the use of facial recognition technology in schools. Both the European Commission (EC) and the United Nations are also currently investigating how best to restrict the use of such technology. The EC is seeking to introduce additional regulations that will safeguard citizen rights over the use of their facial recognition data. 

Is FRT the ultimate personal location metric for the trackers? 2019 has seen an increase in awareness of the issues surrounding the use of this technology. Will 2020 see the introduction of additional regulation governing that use?