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New open location data services for Europe

April 22, 2019 1 comment

New open location data services developed by the Open European Location Services (ELS) project were recently demonstrated at the Geospatial World Forum earlier this month. Included in the test data services on show were EuroGlobalMap—a 1:1 million topographic dataset covering 45 countries and territories across Europe—and a geographical names gazetteer.

EuroGlobalMap

EuroGlobalMap

 

The Open ELS project is a two-year programme (started May 2017) aimed at improving access to location-based information captured and maintained by various public bodies across Europe. Among the participating organisations are national mapping authorities from Great Britain, Poland, Germany, Finland, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the Netherlands. Although there is no universally accepted definition of open data, the Open ELS project has defined open data as … Date from nation sources available free of charge under an open licence that are free to access and made available to the public without any restriction that impedes reuse.

With the exception of one EuroGlobalMap web feature service, which is licensed separately, the remaining data services developed for the ELS project are available under the Open ELS licence. Any one using the Open ELS data services is free to:

  • Copy, publish, share and re-use the data
  • Adapt the data and services
  • Use the data for both commercial and non-commercial applications

There no indication yet when the data services will be generally available; a demonstration site is available at https://demo.locationframework.eu/.

 

Location Tracking: Getting Under The Skin

March 11, 2019 Leave a comment

We’ve written many times over the last few years about the varying ways devices can track our location, with or without our explicit consent. In most cases our tracks are determined by our interaction with and/or our adjacency to a tracking device; the boundaries of our location privacy determined by the range and sophistication of those devices and to some extent our application preferences. To stop the location tracking, all we needed to do was change the settings, turn off the device or leave it at home and avoid the cameras. However, recent advances in microchip technology look set to change the boundaries of location tracking once more.

Microchip implants have been around for over 20 years, from early experiments proving RFID (radio frequency identification) implants could be used to open doors and turn on lights, to pet and patient microchips for storing identification and medical information. The next generation of microchips will see the inclusion of location tracking technology. Within the last year some new microchips have been introduced that can be read from a distance, are connected to the internet and GPS-enabled. With an embedded GPS-enabled microchip, we become the tracking device.

One company involved in this area, Three Square Market (32M), have been working on a voice-activated, body-heat-powered chip that will monitor an individual’s vital signs and track their location via GPS. With plans to test the new chips this year, 32M are focussing initially on dementia patients. With all such new technology, there always the potential to misuse and abuse the information collected, and as with the introduction of other tracking devices such as drones, the legislation governing the use of GPS-enable microchips lags behind. As Weiss notes (2018) ‘… how will lawmakers and experts in security and tech react when required to define consent for a patient with advanced dementia?

With embedded microchip devices that can transmit and receive location and other information over an increasingly wide area, can there be any guarantees that the individual hosting the device will have complete control over who has access to their location information?

Quality Matters…

December 17, 2018 Leave a comment

When Apple Maps was launched six years ago it was not a resounding success, by any measure. Although much of the criticism levelled at Apple focussed on the application interface and the lack of some keys features Google Maps users took for granted, for many the main issue was the quality of the map data. Apple Maps was originally delivered on a platform of third party map data, including TomTom and OpenStreetMap, with the majority of the satellite imagery sourced from DigitalGlobe. In response to the criticism, Apple vowed to do better and set off on a mission to improve the application and challenge the dominance of Google Maps.

Many application upgrades later, the map data is still not considered to be of the same quality as Google Maps. For example, zoom into a location in Queens, New York and compare the quality and range of information reported for local transport services in Google Maps compared to the same site and services reported in Apple Maps. Both Apple and Google Maps provide the number of the bus service using a particular stop but Google Maps provides more … street view data to visualise (and confirm) the location of the bus stop and better integration of supplementary traffic and transport service information. 

Queens, New York – Google Maps

The same bus stop in Apple Maps is shown at a slightly different location (further to the east along 48th Ave) and lacks the integrated street view. 

Queens, New York – Apple Maps

All that is set to change with an ambitious plan from Apple to rebuild their map data platform (see reports in TechCrunch and Medium). Taking a leaf out of the Google handbook on data collection, Apple have invested in specially equipped vans and drones, decked out with GPS, LiDAR, high resolution cameras and other data capture tools. In addition, Apple is also generating map information from anonymised iOS device data, adopting a strict ‘privacy-by-design’ methodology, to improve road network and pedestrian traffic information. 

The new in-house Apple Maps service has been available on a limited basis in California, USA for a few months now and there are plans to roll the service out to the whole USA over the next year. No word yet on when it will be available further afield.

One size doesn’t fit all – global and local mapping solutions

October 22, 2018 1 comment

Couple of interesting articles posted recently highlighting some of work undertaken by local groups providing detailed, custom mapping to meet specific local requirements and ongoing frustrations with the lack of adoption of some of these open data sources.

For most of us, the lack of information on street gradient, footpath kerb height and ramp details in popular online map services is usually not an issue but for those with a physical disability, this can be a problem. The University of Washington’s Taskar Center for Accessible Technology has come up with one solution, AccessMap, developed on an OpenStreetMap/OpenSideWalks platform, to provide safe and accessible trip planning information (Salman, 2018). AccessMap, currently limited to the city of Seattle in NW USA, integrates information from the USGS National Elevation Dataset (NED) with sidewalks data from Seattle DoT and the HackcessibleMap – Sidewalks project, to provide a more detailed description of local conditions.

 

Shaikh (2018) describes the growing resistance in India to large corporations owning all the mapping data and not providing the level of detail necessary to help solve local community issues such as mapping fire catchment areas and managing litter collections. Many OpenStreetMap proponents in India, driven by different motivations but facing similar issues with respect to the lack of local detail, have stressed the importance of creating maps using local landmarks, knowledge and where possible providing the information in local languages. However, although detailed open data mapping resources have been used successfully in humanitarian aid projects and environmental monitoring schemes in India, there is sense that the detailed information now available in open data sources is not used to its full extent. One of the big challenges facing open data communities is to persuade government organisations and large companies to consider alternate open data sources for their mapping requirements.

 

 

Location, Privacy and Google

September 10, 2018 1 comment

Recent revelations about Google’s continued tracking of personal location information despite the Location History setting being disabled have been widely reported (Business Insider, The Guardian). Google responded robustly, acknowledging incidental location information was also collected under other application settings (specifically Web and App Activity) but insisting they provided clear guidelines on what the various settings entailed. Many observers and users of Google services remain unimpressed by what appears at be the rather insidious tracking of location information. Disabling Location History should mean NO location information is tracked regardless of which Google service was used.

Having just reread their Privacy Policy, Google does make it clear that location information is tracked through a variety of other sources, including public data, business and marketing. The Location History setting means location information is saved to a Google account timeline – if that’s what it means, then perhaps the setting should be Save Location History to Timeline.

All of this leads into a more general discussion on privacy; what do we assume privacy means, what do we expect to remain private and what information about us are we prepared to be in the public domain. I typed define: privacy into Google search and the response was … ‘a state in which one is not observed or disturbed by other people‘. Clearly this is not the baseline for Google’s policy and perhaps another example where some rewording of the policy headline would help clarify exactly what a user of Google’s services can expect. Maybe Information Collection and Reuse Policy would be more transparent so there is no misunderstanding, no expectation of privacy and users make informed decision at to what personal information they are prepared to handover in exchange for access to online services.

 

 

 

Categories: Public Domain Data

Ordnance Survey GB to provide OS MasterMap data for free.

June 19, 2018 1 comment

The UK government announced last week that key parts of the OS MasterMap dataset (OSMM) are to be made available free of charge (see full announcement from OS). The following two datasets are due to be released under the Open Government licence (OGL) agreement:

  • OS MasterMap Topography Layer property extents
  • OSMM Topography Layer TOIDs (TOpographic IDentifiers), built into the features in the OS OpenMap-Local dataset.

In addition, a number of datasets will be made available (through an API) for free, up to a threshold, including:

  • OS MasterMap Topography Layer, including building heights and functional sites
  • OS MasterMap Greenspace Layer
  • OS MasterMap Highways Network
  • OS MasterMap Water Network Layer
  • OS Detailed Path Network

The announcement didn’t included any information on what the threshold for free access was, but no doubt details will start to filter out shortly as organisations start making use of these new data assets.

General Data Protection Regulation comes to the EU … and it covers location.

April 23, 2018 1 comment

Legislation protection typically lags behind technological innovation until a clearer picture of how a particular technology is used and abused emerges. The issues associated with personal location data privacy and the often unintentional disclosure of personal and sensitive information, are subjects we have discussed many times before on Spatial Reserves (Always On: The analysts are watchingPrivacy concerns from fitness maps and apps).  However, things are set to change in the European Union (EU) with the introduction of new legislation covering how personal location information is collected, used and stored.

On 25th May 2018, General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will come into effect in the EU, replacing an earlier data privacy directive introduced in 1995. Aimed at protecting the personal data of all EU citizens, GDPR establishes new safeguards to minimise data breaches and misuse. It introduces a number of Data Subject Rights including right of access, right to be forgotten and privacy by design. Although such regulatory initiatives are often associated with the data collecting activities of larger companies and organisations and the type of data they collect, such as those in the financial and marketing sectors, GDPR extends the definition of personal data in Article 4 (1) to include:

‘… any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person (‘data subject’); an identifiable natural person is one who can be identified, directly or indirectly, in particular by reference to an identifier such as a name, an identification number, location data, an online identifier or to one or more factors specific to the physical, physiological, genetic, mental, economic, cultural or social identity of that natural person

This legislative acknowledgement recognises location as an equally important component of personal information and an indicator of what GDPR defines as sensitive traits (political affiliation, religious beliefs and so on). Companies, organisations and institutions in the EU will be required to ask permission to use personal location information, be transparent about the use of this information and delete it if requested to do so.