Evil 2.0: Surveillance, Tracking and Privacy with the “New GIS on the Block”

Geospatial technology, and GIS in particular, have long been associated with the war effort.  To label GIS as part of the war machine is not my intention in this post, but to highlight the similarities between this new generation of Geospatial web and the old GIS standard that we’ve all come to love and hate.  What is referred to as the new geospatial web includes geovisualization Applications such as Google Maps, Google Earth and Open Street Map.

In her paper entitled “Geographic Information Science”, Elwood states that to certain scholars view this new generation of “not-quite GIS” as a continuation and proliferation of old military ideas of GIS, namely in her article being new ways of tracking individuals, exclusion from events and other situations as well as what I feel to be most important, steadily decreasing privacy protection. Starting with older social networks such as Hi5, Xanga and MySpace, and then most noticeably with Facebook, we have been steadily sharing more and more information about ourselves on the web.

With the recent widespread use of Google Maps and other geo-visualization technologies such as foursquare, we are now publicizing our very position down to the (x,y) co-ordinates, at a rate which is alarming at best, and perhaps disturbing at worst.  This geospatial information can be used to find you, stalk you and even abduct you, if some government agency ever desired so.  Perhaps in a less serious note, this can be used to determine when you are not at home and your daily patterns, such that someone would be able to break into your home and have a generally good idea as to whether or not you’ll be home.

In her paper, Elwood give an example of a website called www.rottenneighbours.com, where users are encouraged to submit information about their neighbour’s bad habits and unkindly activities to be published on an application based off of the Google Maps API.  The idea of posting info on your neighbours online could be damaging to the poster’s reputation if the comments were able to be traced back to their origin.

I personally feel that this over-zealous sharing of spatial information is alarming, as users seem not to be aware of the dangers inherent in publicizing your location information.  When combined with geo-visualization technologies and applications such as Google Maps and particularly Foursquare and Google Latitude (whose whole purpose is to let other know where you are at any given time).

The link below contains a satirical video created by the Onion News Network (A satirical news network known for portraying fake news in a matter-of-fact way.  This video makes reference to facebook being an application developed by the CIA to harvest personal information about users and save the CIA money and man-hours in the field. It is a comical look at how crazy it is that we continually post personal information on the ever-public interwebz.

CIA’s ‘Facebook’ Program Dramatically Cut Agency’s Costs



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