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Posts Tagged ‘privacy’

COVID-19 and Privacy Concerns

March 25, 2020 4 comments

Geospatial technology and spatial data are being used to tackle all major world issues, including the current COVID-19 situation.  And because the COVID-19 situation is so tied to individuals and their movements over space and time, it is no surprise that needs for data bump into privacy issues.   A recent article entitled, “As COVID-19 Accelerates, Governments Must Harness Mobile Data to Stop Spread” with a subtitle of, Despite privacy concerns, “contact tracing” using GPS data may be our best bet to contain this large and fast-growing pandemic, was recently published here, via MIT Press.

In the article, the authors, Shekhar and Shekhar, from the University of Minnesota and the Yale School of Medicine, respectively, argue that smartphone-enabled location tracing without explicit permission from the smartphone owner needs to be implemented without delay to save lives.  The authors even lay out a specific plan for it to happen, and also comment that, “If smartphone trajectories of non-infected individuals need to be excluded for privacy reasons, the locations and times of potential exposure could be publicly shared without divulging patient names or sensitive medical information.”

No doubt that in the days and weeks to come, societies will have to make some difficult decisions regarding data and privacy, given the challenges before us.

–Joseph Kerski

 

Your location information is for sale–Article

January 21, 2019 Leave a comment

A recent article in the New York Times reinforced a major theme of our book and this blog:  That your location is being captured, bought, sold, and used.  The article begins with a compelling image of over 235 million locations captured from more than 1.2 million unique devices during only a three-day period in 2017.  The article also features an animation of a smartphone user’s journey from home to work and to other locations atop a 3D satellite view of that person’s neighborhood.  It is my hope that this compelling and high-resolution animation, as well as those featured as streaks and points of lights in an even more compelling follow up article from the New York Times, will help people to pause and consider location privacy in a way that text-based posts like ours on Spatial Reserves might not adequately do.

The article also includes the results of a test that the staff had run:  To evaluate location-sharing practices, The NY Times tested 20 apps, most of which had been flagged by researchers and industry insiders as potentially sharing the data. Together, 17 of the apps sent exact latitude and longitude to about 70 businesses.  Having written the Public Domain Data book with Jill Clark and co-authoring this blog for 7 years, I’m not at all surprised by these figures.  Are you?

Geospatial technology is key to the efficient management of our complex world, and location is fundamental to that technology.  These tools and data have long enabled decision-makers to plan for a more sustainable and healthier future.  They are also becoming increasingly used by individuals to save time, save fuel, become more physically fit, and make smarter decisions in their daily lives.  These tools are not–and should not–go away.  But as we have stated in these essays–people should be aware of the information they are sending, on purpose and inadvertently, and why it all matters.

–Joseph Kerski

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.

Pokémon GO, GIS, and Safety

July 31, 2016 5 comments

Pokémon GO has become very popular, with tens of millions of users in its first month alone, connecting users in the real world with a virtual world, using their own smartphones.  Behind the scenes Pokémon GO is powered by location based services, GIS, and GPS. Pokémon GO is built on Niantic’s Real World Gaming Platform for augmented reality, allowing users to find and catch more than a hundred species of Pokémon as they explore their surroundings. Players are represented on an augmented reality map of the real world. A user’s smartphone vibrates when it is near a Pokémon. When users encounter a Pokémon, they take aim on their smartphone’s touchscreen and throw a Poké Ball to catch it. Finding Pokémon has become much easier with the release of Pokevision, a Pokemon tracker and locator. It uses the Niantic API to grab the location of all Pokemon near you (or your selected location) and displays them on the map in real-time.

This is intriguing to me as a GIS professional for several reasons. First, Pokevision uses map tiles and geocoding services from Esri.  It is already the most popular app that uses Esri technology, which makes sense because it is aimed at the general public rather than GIS professionals.  Second, the game encourages users to explore the cities and towns where they live to capture.  As an outdoor education advocate, I am glad that people are using this game as an excuse to get outside and become active.   PokéStops are located at places that I am always encouraging people to visit, such as public art installations, trails, and historical markers and monuments. But I do want people to be safe and be aware of their surroundings whether they are using this game, any other game, their phone, or a GPS.  Third, as we discuss frequently in this blog, Pokémon GO is helping people think about the privacy and safety implications of location based services, including games.  For example, Chi Smith created a crowdsourcing story map for users to share safety tips.  As we discuss in this blog and in our book, location based services are powerful, engaging, and useful, and need to be used with care.

But like all of these technologies and the social forces surrounding them, on 1 August 2016 it was announced that the Pokemon GO developer shut down sites like Pokevision.  Keep checking this blog for updates.

pokevision.JPG

 view of the Santa Monica Pier in California.

Capturing the Great Indoors with Tango

June 27, 2016 Leave a comment

With the recent announcement of the first Tango-enabled smart phone, Google have taken a big step towards providing a crowd-sourced, indoor mapping solution. The phone’s inbuilt sensors and cameras capture the dimensions of a location and everything inside it, including the furniture. Once captured, all that internal detail becomes a potential back drop for a variety of augmented and virtual reality applications, including interior design and construction, shopping, education and gaming.

Although the data files collected are stored on each phone, Google hopes users will share their Tango data. Perhaps most appealing for Google, although not yet confirmed, the internal data collected and shared by Tango users will provide another platform for expanding their custom advertising and services.

As with other forms of location-based data, there are privacy implications to consider; it’s no longer just where you are or have been, that’s being shared, it is potentially detailed information about your home, your visits to other locations and what you did and saw there. Just how far people will be prepared to trade this new source of location data for services remains to be seen, but given the success of Google Maps and the increasing demand for better internal location information, Tango could help transform the indoor mapping scene.

 

A Privacy Concern from Perhaps an Unexpected Source

April 10, 2016 Leave a comment

Bruce Schneier, CTO of Resilient Systems and a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, as well as the long time author of a blog and numerous books on security issues, wrote about a privacy concern from a source that may be unexpected to many of our readers–Samsung Television.  The article points out that one of the company’s Internet-connected smart TVs offers a voice command that saves the viewer the work of finding the remote, pushing buttons, and scrolling through menus.  However, enabling this feature requires the TV to listen to everything the viewer says.  Yes, apparently “everything.”

Mr Schneier points out that these privacy intrusions shouldn’t be a surprise.  He cites many other examples that the consumer often assents to because the statement that indicates, if it truly exists, describing what the company owning the tool or service will do with the data–is often buried in a lengthy privacy policy.  Mr Schneier rightly calls ours the Age of Ubiquitous Surveillance, and advocates that the data being collected and how it is used needs to be regulated.  Reading his blog regularly as well as our Spatial Reserves blog should help inform the geospatial professional–and others–about these timely and important issues.

 

Categories: Public Domain Data Tags: ,

2015 and Beyond: Who will control the data?

November 17, 2015 1 comment

Earlier this year Michael F. Goodchild, Emeritus Professor of Geography at the University of California at Santa Barbara, shared some thoughts about current and future GIS-related developments in an article for ArcWatch. It was interesting to note the importance attached to the issues of privacy and the volume of personal information that is now routinely captured through our browsing habits and online activities.

Prof. Goodchild sees the privacy issue as essentially one of control; what control do we as individuals have over the data that are captured about us and how that data are used. For some the solution may be to create their own personal data stores and retreat from public forums on the Internet. For others, an increasing appreciation of the value of personal information to governments and corporations, may offer a way to reclaim some control over their data. The data could be sold or traded for access to services, a trend we also commented on in a previous post.

Turning next to big data, the associated issues were characterised as the three Vs:

  • Volume—Capture, management and analysis of unprecedented volumes of data
  • Variety—Multiple data sources to locate, access, search and retrieve data from
  • Velocity—Real-time or near real-time monitoring and data collection

Together the three Vs bring a new set of challenges for data analysts and new tools and techniques will be required to process and analyse the data. These tools will be required to not only better illustrate the patterns of current behaviour but to predict more accurately future events, such as extreme weather and the outbreak and the spread of infectious diseases, and socio-economic trends. In a recent post on GIS Lounge Zachary Romano described one such initiative from Orbital Insights,  a ‘geospatial big data’ company based in California. The company is developing deep learning processes that will recognise patterns of human behaviour in satellite imagery and cited the examples of the number of cars in a car park as an indicator of retail sales or the presence of shadows as an indicator of construction activity. As the author noted, ‘Applications of this analytical tool are theoretically endless‘.

Will these new tools use satellite imagery to track changes at the level of individual properties? Assuming potentially yes, the issue of control over personal data comes to the fore again, only this time most of us won’t know what satellites are watching us, which organisations or governments control those satellites and who is doing what with our data.

 

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.

Making the most of our personal location data

November 17, 2014 2 comments

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.

 

 

 

UAVs Prohibited in National Parks in the USA

November 10, 2014 2 comments

As we state in our book, The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data, oftentimes, technological advancement and adoption proceeds at a faster pace than regulations accompanying it.  A perfect example is what is probably the hottest technology in remote sensing right now, and that is UAVs, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.  The Internet is becoming rapidly filled with stories and videos of footage from UAVs deployed by aerial survey companies, but even more commonly, operated by the general public.  For example, this storymap contains footage of UAV imagery flown over a rocket launch, a cruise ship, and more.

While I as a geographer are fascinated by these images and videos, I am at the same time sensitive to the myriad of privacy and safety issues raised by the operation of UAVs.  We are beginning to see laws passed to regulate the operation of UAVs on certain lands, such as the recent policy directive against flying these in national parks in the USA.

Jonathan Jarvis, director of the National Park Service, said that “We embrace many activities in national parks because they enhance visitor experiences with the iconic natural, historic and cultural landscapes in our care.  However, we have serious concerns about the negative impact that flying unmanned aircraft is having in parks, so we are prohibiting their use until we can determine the most appropriate policy that will protect park resources and provide all visitors with a rich experience.”  Some parks had already initiated bans after noise and nuisance complaints from park visitors, an incident in which park wildlife were harassed, and park visitor safety concerns.  For example, earlier this year, visitors at Grand Canyon National Park gathered for a quiet sunset were interrupted by a loud unmanned aircraft flying back and forth and eventually crashing in the canyon. Volunteers at Zion National Park witnessed an unmanned aircraft disturb a herd of bighorn sheep, reportedly separating adults from young animals.

The policy memorandum directs park superintendents to take a number of steps to exclude unmanned aircraft from national parks. The steps include drafting a written justification for the action, ensuring compliance with applicable laws, and providing public notice of the action.  The memorandum does not affect the primary jurisdiction of the Federal Aviation Administration over the National Airspace System.

The policy memorandum is a temporary measure, and it seems like a wise move. Jarvis said the next step will be to propose a Servicewide regulation regarding unmanned aircraft. That process can take considerable time, depending on the complexity of the rule, and includes public notice of the proposed regulation and opportunity for public comment.  The National Park Service may use unmanned aircraft for administrative purposes such as search and rescue, fire operations and scientific study. These uses must also be approved by the associate director for Visitor and Resource Protection.

Near the Esri office in Colorado a month ago, I witnessed my first UAV flight where I did not know who was operating the vehicle.  I’m sure we will look back in years to come and realize that we in 2014 were at the dawn of a technology that will no doubt transform GIS and our everyday lives.   I anticipate sensors soon capable of capturing imagery in a wide variety of wavelengths, as well as atmospheric and other types of sensors that will further hasten the era of big data.  I am hopeful that we will chart a prudent course through the advent of UAVs, taking advantage of the innumerable benefits that UAVs can offer the GIS industry and also society as a whole.