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Posts Tagged ‘smartphones’

Privacy concerns from fitness maps and apps

January 31, 2018 2 comments

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. 

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The Internet is dead, long live the Internet

December 30, 2013 1 comment

Almost a year ago we posted a review on the Internet of things, an emerging global network of internet-connected devices and sensors, so with the end of 2013 fast approaching  it seems like a good time to see how things have developed over the last 12 months and what 2014 and beyond has in store for us. In his article How the internet of things will replace the web Christopher Mims predicts that the internet will change beyond all current recognition, with the role of the web reduced to displaying content. Although the dominant ‘species’ of the internet of things is currently the smartphone, with the latest versions kitted out with sensors and apps for tracking and monitoring many aspects of our lives, wearable technology – smart watches, wristbands, glasses, even temporary tattoos – will become increasingly prevalent as personal sensors and the medium for controlling the connected devices around us.

Accompanying these developments in the available devices are significant improvements in the levels of accuracy in location tracking with versions of GPS technology, such as Apple’s iBeacon technology,  that work indoors. With this increasing accuracy comes the emergence of ‘invisible’ or ‘spatial’ buttons, which according to Amber Case (Esri) are simply locations in space in which some response is triggered when a person or a device enters that space. For example, walking into or out of a room automatically turns the lights on/off, or turning on the security system when you leave home. Needless to say, the potential for using this type of technology as a marketing tool hasn’t been missed. British Airways has already launched a new campaign called ‘Look Up‘  with an interactive billboard in London informing passers-by what aircraft is passing overhead and current deals on that particular route.

Along with the changing role of the web, Mims also discusses the emergence of what some refer to as anticipatory computing, as the internet develops from simply responding to requests to anticipating those requests based on past location, actions and preferences. As with most technical innovations, there will be both benefits and costs; the benefits should mean we have much more control over the resources we use, the cost will be having to make a lot of our personal information available to make this happen.