Privacy vs. Efficiency in GIScience

O’Sullivan brings up three very important points when considering the direction of critical GIScience.  The one that struck home for me was the subjects of privacy, access and ethics.  It is hard to argue against Curry’s point, brought up by O’Sullivan, that the increasing availability of “spatial data forces us to reconceptualize privacy and associated ethical codes” (O’Sullivan, 2006:786).  With millions of people around the world constantly “sharing” their locational information via social networking sites such as Twitter or Facebook, it is easy to see that such information is no longer private.  The reconceptualization of privacy includes the fact that when something is shared on the internet, there is potential for that information becoming accessible to those other than the intended “target.”  We thus need to realize how easy it may be for locational information such as our home or school to essentially become public.  As a society, do we accept the fact that acquaintances (sometimes real, sometimes over the internet), will now know more about us than ever?  If not, how do we use these new applications in a way that respects individuals’ level of privacy while still allowing us to become more connected?

The traffic management is a great example of weighing privacy and increased connection.  Obviously, with increased surveillance, we will be able to detect traffic patterns better, allowing people to travel more efficiently.  However, everyone may not be comfortable with such surveillance, even if it does make their commute easier.  So, this is where the social theory of GIS meets the tool that is GIS.  We can come up with hundreds of ways to track human activity to allow us to travel more efficiently, but there may be a level at which people in a society are no longer comfortable with their location being readily available.  Furthermore, who has the right to use this information?  Is it the private businesses looking to create a useful traffic application, or is the government the only institution that should be able to use this data? It is here where critical GIS comes into play, as a way to evaluate the way different societies value privacy versus efficiency.  Again, this will be different across cultures, communities and individuals.  These issues make the application of GIS inherently tricky, as it is not just a tool that can be used objectively.




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