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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.