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Keyword: ‘location privacy’

Shining a torch on location privacy

June 23, 2012 Leave a comment

A couple of weeks ago the Olympic Torch was paraded through the village where I live.  In eager anticipation of the event, a couple of elderly neighbours, keen to get the best vantage point, asked if I knew which route the torch would be taken along. Deciding that a map was probably the best way to show this, I cranked up my iPad and opened up a map viewer.  The reaction from both neighbours on seeing their respective houses and surrounds in glorious Technicolor courtesy of some recent satellite imagery went something along the lines of …. ‘Oh look there’s my house … hey wait a minute that’s an invasion of privacy, I didn’t say they could photograph it’.

Trying my best to allay their fears about any perceived intrusion, arguing that the information was being put to many good uses, which by the way included helping us find the best place to see the torch, I couldn’t help thinking their reaction was not uncommon for their generation – immediately suspicious and wary of the implications. By contrast, younger generations are growing up today in a world where having easy access to this level of detailed location information is taken for granted. Not being able to see your house on Google Street View is simply ‘pre-historic’.

Location privacy is an issue we discuss in the book. Just what rights do individuals have now with pervasive street view imagery and video surveillance cameras on almost every street corner?  In response to a number of lawsuits from disgruntled individuals and private businesses, Google have argued that “complete privacy”  no longer exists in this age of satellites and high-resolution imagery, although they have made some concessions in the form face and licence plate blurring to protect unsuspecting passers-by and residents. The technology to capture, record and manipulate location information continues to develop apace;  just what legislation will be required to govern the use of that information is still being debated and it is a discussion that will continue for years.  It’s not the data that are the problem, it’s what some people choose to do with them that’s the issue.

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Your Location History: Legitimate Concerns about Privacy or Not a Problem?

June 14, 2015 2 comments

If you are a frequent reader of this blog or of technology related news feeds, it should come as no surprise that location has rapidly become one of the basic means of communicating, marketing, and crowdsourcing in our modern world.  Is the data that you are inadvertently communicating through your mobile device that powers many web mapping services via crowdsourcing making our world more efficient and sustainable?  Take the common example of your position moving through traffic, communicated from location information on your smartphone, calculated using the miracle of web mapping technology into speed, and combined with others to create real-time information about which routes are currently running sluggishly and which are running quickly in your metropolitan area.  Most would argue that yes, this does make people’s commutes more efficient by saving time. Moreover, it saves fuel through a multiplier effect if even a fraction of the vast number of people commuting at any given time around the world adjust their behavior by avoiding traffic snarls and idling their engines.

Is that same data compromising your personal privacy? Most would probably argue that while each of us gives up a bit of location privacy for these real time traffic feeds, the resulting public benefit far outweighs the costs. An analogy from the 1990s might be the personal information that most of us shared with grocery businesses in order to obtain a ‘discount card’ from our local food store.

The “tipping point” of concern for some on the personal privacy seems to be where location services allow you, and by extension, depending on the application, anyone, to see your own personal location and movements over time.  For example, examine this page describing how location reporting from an iPhone and iPad allows Google to store a history of your location devices where you are logged into your Google account and have enabled location history, or related articles about Android devices.  There are ways to override this location history, but it takes just that–overriding the defaults, and–will this override be possible in the future?

I checked, and I don’t have any location history, at least in Google.  But would it matter if I did?  As a person who loves and works with maps on a daily basis, part of me was a little disappointed, actually, that I couldn’t see what I thought might be a fascinating set of maps showing some of my field work over the past few months, which included some brisk but pleasant walks along the lakefront in Chicago during the AAG annual meeting and a trek through a wetland in Wisconsin afterwards.

I frequently work with secondary and university students, and in my conversations with them, I’ve noticed that the younger generation generally doesn’t see a problem with sharing anything in the digital world, whether it is their location, photos, videos, links, whatever.  So, is it just my generation that is a wee bit nervous about the potential harm that could result from personal data being mined?  Should other generations be concerned?  Our goal in this blog and in our book is to raise awareness of the power and utility of geospatial information, and also to critically assess its quality,use, and implications.

You are here!  Reflections on location privacy.

You are here! And who else knows you are here? Reflections on location privacy.

Autonomous cars and location data privacy

September 22, 2014 2 comments

Location data privacy issues continue to challenge both the providers and consumers of location based services. With news last week that Audi has become the first car maker to obtain a permit from the state of California to test autonomous or self-driving cars on public roads, the prospect of so-called robot cars on the roads and highways gets ever closer. This will not only herald a new age in car usage and traffic management, but there will also be some far reaching implications for the collection and use of personal location data. The recording and archiving of navigation histories, monitoring individual driving behaviour, potential links to social media and other online accounts, and the insatiable desire from advertising companies to know as much as they can about where we are going to and what we do when we get there, exposes a minefield of location data privacy issues (What If Your Autonomous Car Keeps Routing You Past Krispy Kreme?). As one motor industry VP of marketing commented at CES earlier in the year, ‘We have GPS in your car, so we know what you’re doing”.

 

US government research into in-car location services has already prompted a call for location data privacy legislation. The Location Privacy Protection Act, updated and reintroduced this year, would require all companies who provide such location based services to obtain explicit permission from their customers before collecting and reusing their personal location data. If passed the bill would also require companies to publicly disclose how the location data is being used.

Should traffic management and law enforcement authorities have access to an individual’s location data while they are on the road? Would the fear of being ‘caught’ violating road and traffic regulations make us more responsible drivers and would the prospect of safer car operation and a reduction in accidents due to the extra surveillance be sufficient to persuade us to relinquish some control over our personal location data? It will be interesting to see what the response to these data privacy issues will be when self-drive cars finally hit the roads.

 

 

Locational Privacy: Cellphones vs. GPS

May 31, 2012 1 comment

In our book The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data, we consider a number of issues surrounding privacy and geospatial data.  As technology improves in spatial accuracy and becomes more ubiquitous, the issues that we are raising in the book are quickly moving from GIS news to front-page news.  For example, Forbes.com reported last week “in the wake of a historic Supreme Court ruling that police can’t use GPS devices planted on a car to track suspects without a warrant,” the US Congress “is reconsidering the question of what kinds of location tracking constitute an invasion of privacy.” And a University of Pennsylvania reminds them that the smartphone can track people more precisely than any device merely attached to our car–even without the use of GPS:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/andygreenberg/2012/05/17/reminder-to-congress-cops-cellphone-tracking-can-be-even-more-precise-than-gps/

Can it? I conducted a series of tests between a GPS as a standalone receiver versus a smartphone last year, and I found remarkable horizontal accuracy on my phone:

http://blogs.esri.com/Info/blogs/gisedcom/archive/2011/04/15/gps-vs-smartphone-part-1-of-2.aspx

All of this reinforces our book’s points that as the technology improves, it spreads beyond the original core GIS users, and that opens up even more issues in broader society, as well as being excellent fodder for discussion with students in teaching GIS, sociology, geography, law, and other subjects.

Categories: Public Domain Data

Privacy concerns from fitness maps and apps

January 31, 2018 Leave a comment

We frequently write about the need to teach about and be aware of location privacy with the rapid advancement and web-enablement of GIS.  Thus it wasn’t a surprise when recent concerns arose over an amazing map from Strava Labs.  Maps generated from GPS-enabled fitness devices and other recreational uses of GPS such as GPS Drawing, as well as those from the fitness tracker market such as Fitbit and Garmin, have for several years been sharable and viewable.  Strava has been one of the leaders in helping people stay motivated to meet their fitness goals by providing tools such as apps and maps.  But perhaps the Strava map attracted more attention than others because it contains an amazing “over 1 billion activities and 13 trillion data points”, or perhaps because the map is so responsive and contains some stunning cartography that the web map user can customize.

Whatever the reason, as reported in USA TodayPopular MechanicsWired, and elsewhere, location privacy concerns have arisen recently over the new Strava map.  Specifically, “Security experts over the weekend questioned whether the user-generated map could not only show the locations of military bases, but specific routes most heavily traveled as military personnel unintentionally shared their jogging paths and other routes.”  Some of the posts have reported that it may even be possible to scrape the data to discover the person behind each of the tracks, and the Strava CEO has responded to these and other concerns.  Any GIS user knows that much can be discovered through mapped layers and satellite imagery these days, shedding new light on what is really “secret” in our 21st Century world, but maps aimed at the recreational user are bringing these discussions to the general public.  The particular concern with the Strava data is not so much just the location information, but the temporal data tied to the location, and potential identification of individuals.

Much of it comes down to what we have been saying in this blog–understand the defaults for whatever you are doing in GIS, whether it is the projection of your geospatial data or the location-based app on your phone.  Ask yourself, “What is the default–is my data public by default? Is my projection Web Mercator by default?  Can I override the default, and if so, how?  What is the best way to represent this spatial information?  Do I need to share this information?  If I need to share the information, how should I do it?”  and then act accordingly.   For more on this topic, I encourage you to read some of our short essays, such as Why Does a Calculator App need to know my location?, Making the Most of Our Personal Location Dataposting cat pictures and The Invasion of the Data Snatchers.

stravamap

A section of the Strava heat map, showing the results of people who have recorded and shared their fitness walks and runs.  As one might expect, city park and a high school track stand out as places where more people conduct these activities.  As with other maps showing locations where people are now or where they have been, location privacy concerns have been raised. 

Crowdsourcing Story Maps and Privacy

As we have pointed out in this blog, we have had the capability to create story maps (multimedia-rich, live web maps) for a few years now, and we have also had the capability to collect data via crowdsourcing and citizen science methods using a variety of methods.  But now the capability exists for both to be used at the same time–one way is with the new crowdsourcing story map app from Esri.

The crowdsource story map app joins the other story map apps that are listed here.  To get familiar with this new app, read this explanation.  Also, you might explore a new crowdsourced story map that, after selecting “+ Participate”, prompts you for your location, photograph, and a sentence or two about attending, in this case, the Esri User Conference.  If you did not attend, examining the application will give you a good sense for what this new app can do.

It’s not just this story map that has me interested.  It is that this long-awaited capability is now at our fingertips, where you can, with this same app, create crowdsourced story maps for gathering data on such things as tree cover, historic buildings, noisy places, litter, weird architecture, or something else, on your campus or in your community.  It is in beta, but feel free to give this crowdsourcing story map app a try.

We have also discussed location privacy concerns both here and in our book.  The story Map Crowdsource app is different from the other Story Maps apps in that it enables people to post pictures and information onto your map without logging in to your ArcGIS Online organization.  Thus, the author does not have complete control over what content appears in a Crowdsource story. Furthermore, the contributor’s current location, such as their current street address or locations they have visited, can be exposed in a Crowdsource app and appear with their post in these maps as a point location and as text. This may be fine if your map is collecting contributions about water quality, invasive plant species, or interesting places to visit in a city, where these location are public places. But it may not be desirable for other subject matter or scenarios, especially if people may be posting from their own residence.

Thus, it is up to you as the author of a Story Map Crowdsource app to ensure that your application complies with the privacy and data collection policies and standards of your organization, your community, and your intended audience.  You might wish to set up a limited pilot or internal test of any Story Map Crowdsource project before deploying and promoting it publicly in order to review if it meets those requirements. And for you as a user of these maps, make sure that you are aware that you are potentially exposing the location of your residence or workplace, and make adjustments accordingly (generalizing your location to somewhere else in your city, for example) if exposing these locations are of concern to you).

Thus, the new crowdsource story map app is an excellent example of both citizen science and location privacy.

ccc

Example of the new crowdsourcing story map app.

Making the most of our personal location data

November 17, 2014 1 comment

We have written much over the last couple of years about location data privacy concerns and potential harm in publishing too much of our personal location data, however unintentionally. Despite these concerns, having access to aggregate personal location data can reveal patterns in behaviour that may have previously gone unnoticed.

In this short video (8.32 mins), Margaret McKenna (Runkeeper) discusses some of the issues, challenges and opportunities that arise collating and analysing the volumes of personal location tracking data that fitness enthusiasts have been capturing over recent years. The insights derived from the analysis into regional and city-wide exercise patterns and motivations have the potential to make a positive impact on communities.

 

 

 

Does Posting Pictures Compromise Privacy?

August 17, 2014 2 comments

A recent article in the New York Times, discussing “What the Internet Can See from Your Cat Pictures“, began with the statement, “Your cat may never give up your secrets. But your cat photos might.”  The article went on to describe a site that is named, appropriately, “iknowwhereyourcatlives.com”, built by Florida State University professor Owen Mundy.  The site’s web map shows the locations and photographs of thousands of cats, and, presumably, the location of the cat owners.  The site was created to demonstrate “the status quo of personal data usage by startups and international megacorps who are riding the wave of decreased privacy for all,” Professor Mundy wrote describing the site.

I Know Where Your Cat Lives site

I Know Where Your Cat Lives site.

We frequently write about location privacy in this blog, and for good reason.  As the world becomes ever more monitored and measured, the 7+ billion humans inhabiting it are increasingly affected by these monitoring activities.  They are also increasingly contributing to vast archives of data, often inadvertently, in part through the “Internet of Things.”  An increasing proportion of the data collected can be mapped, and therefore, so can people’s location, movements, and habits. The Centre for Spatial Law and Policy site alone contains news and dozens of documents pointing to current issues of location privacy in our everyday lives.  These include a recent story about privacy in the Boston Marathon and frequent reflections about laws and expectations of location privacy.  We recommend that geospatial professionals be aware of the issues through this blog and sites such as the Centre for Spatial Law and Policy.

Geospatial technologies have proven to benefit our planet in ways unimaginable even a few years ago.  However, those involved with the geospatial industry need to be included in the conversations about the privacy implications of the types of data collected to make improvements on our planet.  And even seemingly innocuous activities such as posting pictures of your cat have their share of privacy implications.

Categories: Public Domain Data Tags:

The Invasion of the Data Snatchers: Privacy Implications for the GIS Community

February 17, 2013 1 comment

In a recent op-ed for the New York Times, Bill Keller lays out an interesting real scenario where a local editor legally obtains location information and proposes to publish it in the newspaper.  One of the points Bill raises is that just because we can increasingly map location information, it may be controversial to do so.  For example, when a newspaper mapped the names and addresses for 33,000 gun owners in two counties, thousands of protests came from gun owners and non-gun owners alike.  We may protest this type of mapping but we are also acquiescing to sweeping erosion of our privacy in many areas of life, prompting Bill to say, “when it comes to privacy, we are all hypocrites.”

What are the implications for the GIS community?  In our book, The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data and on the Spatial Reserves Blog, we dive into issues of privacy.  I first became aware of the dichotomy between personal information wariness and wanting to map that information while working for the US Census Bureau.  People may not relish divulging their own information for the census but appreciate  government grants to their communities stemming from census figures.  How did you feel back in the 1990s when grocery chains began offering plastic cards as a way to offer discounts?  You knew they would track your purchases, and they did!  But then consider the detailed data that you can obtain and map from consumer expenditure surveys based on that data.

Grocery Store

Grocery Store

I think that what makes people nervous is not so much the publishing or mapping of data in aggregated form, but the fact that individual records are stored online and potentially accessible by many.  And nearly on a daily basis, we read about those records being hacked or somehow compromised.  What is the solution?  Certainly the continued improvement of cyber security.  However, beyond the technology, it is my hope that through our work in education, that we can cultivate a generation that is ethical about data and will seek to protect and secure that data.

Categories: Public Domain Data Tags: