My colleagues Emily and Frank have in the past months been contributing our company’s work on ethical data use to the W3C’s Spatial Data on the Web Interest Group.

The W3C now has published a draft document on the responsible use of spatial data, to invite comments and feedback. It is not a normative document but aims to promote discussion. Comments can be filed directly on the Github link mentioned, or through the group’s mailing list (subscribe, archives).

The purpose of this document is to raise awareness of the ethical responsibilities of both providers and users of spatial data on the web. While there is considerable discussion of data ethics in general, this document illustrates the issues specifically associated with the nature of spatial data and both the benefits and risks of sharing this information implicitly and explicitly on the web.

Spatial data may be seen as a fingerprint: For an individual every combination of their location in space, time, and theme is unique. The collection and sharing of individuals spatial data can lead to beneficial insights and services, but it can also compromise citizens’ privacy. This, in turn, may make them vulnerable to governmental overreach, tracking, discrimination, unwanted advertisement, and so forth. Hence, spatial data must be handled with due care. But what is careful, and what is careless? Let’s discuss this.

"Here"
2013 artwork by Jon Thomson and Alison Craighead. Located at the Greenwich Meridian, the sign marks the distance from itself in miles around the globe. Image by Alex Liivet, license CC-BY

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