|I don’t believe that privacy issues will be the downfall of geo-exploration platform creators. Although, I don’t think the geospatial community is engaged enough and responding to public concerns about these technologies adequately at the moment – which is not a responsible enough stance.
Let’s go back a bit in time, not long, only a decade or so. You or I could go to any event with a camera and take some pictures. We could publish those in a book, people could read and look at them, and few if any people would say much the wiser.
Just this past week the world celebrated 50 years in space with the launch of Sputnik. That little metal ball heralded the beginning of satellite monitoring and space communications. Upon its launch, people built bomb shelters, the news headlines were filled with fear and television was describing ways that people might be attacked and so on. That was the cold war. It led to the launch of the U2 and strengthening of stances between nations.
The principle stands today – fear leads to actions and results. People (and governments) react – often in unusual and illogical ways.
This is why the geospatial community needs to tackle this issue, and to explain to people how these technologies work, what they can and can’t do, and to begin the discussion on privacy issues openly. It must begin the process of debate as a community, where all members are afforded input, including the public.
Last year was Einstein Year in Germany. A year designed to celebrate the achievements of the famous scientist Albert Einstein. As part of that celebration, the Bundeskanzleramt (where the Chancellor’s office is) had a quote on the side of the building. It read “the state is for the people, not the people for the state” - governments serve people, in other words.
The principles of human rights are at the heart of privacy issues. The fears of people originate from their concerns that geo-technologies will be used to gather information about them. But, once again, no one is explaining what geo-technologies can and cannot do. Again, why the geospatial community needs to step up to the plate.
The governments of Canada, Norway and India and others are or have expressed concerned about the issue of individual privacy. I think the geospatial community needs to recognise that these arguments are not just restricted to virtual worlds and globes, but will spread further to include demographic data collection, its analysis and distribution.
The very real question of data accuracy versus privacy protection will come into play at a time when ‘geo’ is poised to grow around the world.
In my view, here is what the geospatial community ought to be working toward:
Establishing industry / sector wide ‘privacy/policy’ forums and groups to debate the technology / privacy issues. These should be open to the public and discussion encouraged from industry, government and interested parties.
Initiate education aspects as part of corporate responsibility that point out and help people to understand how products and services are developed, used and distributed. This is a prime opportunity for industry to explain their ‘value proposition’ and why geospatial technologies are improving and helping society! In my view, good design and infrastructure protects and sustains people.
The industry needs to explain the military and defence relationships and the protection of communities using these technologies in a way that engages people to understand their needs and benefits. Spatial analysis and modeling and their role, need to be explained simply. Informed opinion and realistic understanding should be the goal.
This is a tough question Matt! But, I would like to add. Many people have died fighting for freedoms - mine and others. We owe it to those people to ensure human rights and freedoms are held at the highest levels of society. A responsible approach is to tackle these issues head-on.
Again, this issue extends well beyond virtual globes alone. It will come to include all geospatial related technologies because they are becoming part of mainstream systems and processes. It is better to be explaining now, rather than being regulated through fear later.
||The privacy issues related to the public availability of personal data combined with a person’s location has long been a debate and issue within the geospatial industry. Jerry Dobson coined the term “geoslavery” to describe the ability to track an individual with GPS and use geofencing to curtail their movement. There have also been ongoing complaints from governments about the availability of imagery in geoexploration platforms, fearing the imagery poses a security threat.
Google and others generally comply to government complaints by reducing the resolution of images in sensitive areas. But full-resolution imagery is available commercially from a few U.S.-based companies, and a growing number of international entities, so that concern is rapidly becoming outdated since the imagery is so widely available.
Google’s Street View imagery has raised an uproar due to the resolution of the imagery that allows for the identification of people or car license plates. Hundred of individuals have scoured the imagery for interesting and incriminating photos. And Canada’s privacy commissioner sent a note to Google stating that she felt the imagery would not comply with Canada’s federal privacy legislation. (This even though a Canadian company, Immersive Media, was responsible for the data collection.)
The imagery hasn’t yet been collected in Canada, so that’s not a real issue to date, but it does point to the possibility of legislation that could curtail the realism and frequency of data that are available in these platforms. Fortunately, there’s a technology fix for everything as Google has stated that they’ll be able to blur faces and license plates, which should eliminate the concern. I’m sure there’s a possibility for unpopulated models at some point, with some creative photo stitching.
Back in 2004, the libertarian magazine Reason created a customized cover for each of its subscribers with an aerial photo of their neighborhood and their house circled. The issue also included customized ads that compiled a number of personal details gleaned from public data. The stunt was intended to show our reliability on databases and how they are both beneficial and invasive.
As Internet companies become increasingly important and far reaching — with search, applications and services — the amount of data they compile on us could become worrisome. Google’s purchase of Double Click is an illustration of just such a possible conflict. Double Click’s business involves the creation of personal profiles, potentially leading to personally identifiable information that could be exploited alongside location information.
The geoexploration platform is not a huge privacy worry in and of itself. It’s the combination of the platform with other data that could become dangerous.