Sensitive sensors?

Michael F. Goodchild argues that the most important value of volunteered geography might be provided by citizens sensors compiling information (unnoticed by other media) about their local environment and daily activities.

The authors briefly signalize issues related to volunteered geography (digital divide, authority and assertion, mention the issue of privacy, but do not engage in that topic further). Nonetheless, I found the point of view of the author a little optimistic and would have liked to hear more about the problems associated with the data, for example. The question of what drives citizens to be accurate or inaccurate is important, but there is also the notion of reliability. How reliable is data produced by a relatively homogeneous group of people sharing similar interests?

Life experiences are relative to the context in which they take place. To what extent are generalizations possible from these data? Accuracy might not be the best word to capture the complexity of the phenomena of volunteered geography which is based on a wide range of different realities.

Furthermore, to what extent can the technologies really allow the expression of what we can sense in our environment? For example, does tagging “like” or “dislike” reduce the complexity and limit the expression of the way we feel to a dualist point of view?

It is clear that volunteered information is a cheap way for corporate and governmental agencies to acquire information but is there a cost behind all this that we are missing. I’m thinking for example the compromise of confidentiality and individual privacy. The article doesn’t really engage with the issues of individual privacy as announced in the abstract. In another article Nadine Shuurman interviewed Goodchild and asked him if: “a world of citizen sensors change the way we experience privacy?”(p.575). Part of his answer was that: “if you volunteer the information yourself, how can you be said to be violating privacy if it’s information about you?” (p.576). The problems arise of course when it’s information about others. But is the volunteered geography ‘system’ set up so that the citizens sensors really know how the data that they produce will be used?

Schuurman, N. (2009). The new Brave New World: Geography, GIS, and the emergence of ubiquitous mapping and data. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 27(4), 571-572.


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