Tag Archives: Research Theme 1: Anywhere Anyone Anytime

Geoweb and Open Data in Canada: Mapping the Terrain

There is much hope expressed about the cultural, economic, political and social opportunities afforded by Geoweb and open data initiatives. Much of the fanfare focuses on how best to harness the power of information and communication technologies in order to beget the economic, political, and socio-cultural benefits that supposedly will follow. Such a view gives rise to two concerns. First, it places technology as the primary agent, or driver, of change. Second, it advances a form of historical amnesia about expectations for the democratic, economic, political, and social virtues of previous communication technologies, from electrification, through telegraph, radio, television, and the Internet, to mobile phones (see, Marvin 1990; Mattelart 1996; Mosco 2004; Standage 1998).

Geoweb and open data initiatives may enhance efficiencies, bring about greater transparency and foster enhanced levels of civic engagement. But this does not capture all the complexity. Such initiatives, and the technologies that enable them, are inherently political and their politics are directly impacted by the contexts within which stakeholder decisions are made about such things as the platforms to employ and the policies to implement. A cursory examination of the history of technology teaches us that, if we are to succeed in unraveling the myths about the supposed progressive and emancipatory powers of Geoweb and open data initiatives we need to be much more precise than all too frequently is advanced in mainstream accounts. Geoweb and open data initiatives operate within specific socio-economic and socio-cultural contexts.

We are collaborating with a graduate student from the University of Ottawa and colleagues from the Faculty of Information (iSchool) at the University of Toronto. The objective of
our project is to begin “mapping” the complex soci-political and economic terrain within which policy decisions about open data are made at federal, provincial and municipal levels. In these early stages the project has two principal objectives: identify key stakeholders (government, industry, civil society) in open data in Canada at federal, provincial and municipal levels; and create an electronic depository of policy documents, company reports, and NGO reports relating to open data in Canada.

Admin note: An underlying question at Geothink is whether there is there anything new with these geographically based Web 2.0 technologies? And do we believe that technology will rescue us from long-standing and difficult to realize processes like civic participation? At the same time, the technology appears new because it allows non-experts to share information—for us, geographically tagged information—and to contribute from anywhere, at anytime and do so anonymously. With the open data movement, government has taken unprecedented steps to release the raw data undergirding decision-making. Geothink will help us and help local governments to understand if there’s anything new going on.

If you have thoughts on this, please email Daniel Paré, dpar2@uOttawa.ca, and Leslie Shade, leslie.shade@utoronto.ca.

Accuracy, Authenticity and Technical Aspects of Privacy

At the Universities of Laval and Waterloo, we are interested in what is often seen as the “virtuous cycle” of citizens’ increasing use of open government data and, potentially, for governments to actively leverage information that the public creates. Our work centers on issues of accuracy, authenticity and privacy in citizen-generated spatial data and the changing relationships between governments and citizens in data provision and use. In Year 1, we are concentrating on assembling baseline information that will help us understand how citizens use open data from governments and the extent that Canadian governments’ currently leverage citizen-contributed data. In this first phase, we will assemble a literature review and survey government partners at local, provincial and national levels to:

  1. Identify and characterize the main current open data initiatives (e.g., who is providing what data, in which forms?) and what data standards are used at local and provincial levels (if any?),
  2. Identify existing as well as potential practices for: a) using crowdsourced data (including barriers and opportunities) and, b) for validating crowdsourced data,
  3. Explore the linkages between open data (as a product and as practice) and crowdsourcing at the municipal and provincial levels (e.g. open data not only a service provided by the organization but also a way to improve data and by feedback loops in practice).

Two PhD students (Ashley Zhang – Waterloo, Teriitutea Quesnot – Laval) have been hired to jointly complete the literature review, survey administration and analysis and also participate in reporting the results through a journal paper. Teriitutea Quesnot is from French Polynesia. Teriitutea received his bachelor and masters in France and he has strong geocomputing and programming skills as well as consulting experience. Ashley is from China and has completed her Masters at the University of Georgia with a thesis focus on exploring spatio-temporal changes in the sociao-spatial structure of Beijing. Currently, her PhD research is centred on public engagement and place-making in smart cities. Since our government partners operate in both English and French, the survey will be bilingual to allow a pan-Canadian assessment to be developed. This information relating to current opportunities and barriers will help us develop new methods for promoting and visualizing data authenticity and accuracy. We anticipate that it also will contribute to project-wide efforts to develop best practices for Canadian governments to manage citizen-generated in light of data privacy and quality concerns.

We know that many of our partners and others have considerable experience in utilizing crowdsourced data. Even if you don’t then you probably have questions you’d like explored.

We encourage you to get in touch with us to enrich our research. Feel free to email stephane.roche@scg.ulaval.ca and robert.feick@uwaterloo.ca.

Hopping the Geofence: A Quick Look at Geofencing Practices

By Matthew Tenney

As we walk, drive, or skip down the road most of us are actively sharing bits of information about ourselves to anyone who cares to listen. The piece(s) of mobile technology we carry with us, nearly ever place we go, is being bombarded by a field of sensors that hear where and who we are.  Often these sensors can talk back to us through emails, SMS, or many other mediums directly to our smartly connected pockets. What they are looking for and what they do with this information is, however, a complex system of applications that vary depending on the kinds of hardware being used to what purpose someone has for listening in the first place.

Strategies known as geofencing utilizes location based services (LBS) within certain geographic zones and are delineated by sensor networks across real-world geographic areas. These invisible fences act as both partitions and catchment areas, which quiet heavily used in today’s digital world whether you are aware of it or not.

One example of geofencing is for commercial enterprises like consumer centers and dissemination of marketing materials. A shopping center can create a radius of interest (or guesstimated trade area) around their locations and “watch” all of those that enter and exit via different LBS. Sometimes these fences will alert you with an ad about their big fire-sale on paperback books, or, maybe extend an exclusive deal to you for: being in the right place, at the right time.

Another popular use of geofences is for safety and security purposes. Acting in this case, more like their traditional counterpart, as a barrier between different places or people. Digital Childcare services can offer a means to track the real-time whereabouts of children and provide different levels of safeguard measures to send alerts when these borders are crossed. Some high-security facilities can take advantage of geofences both inside and outside of buildings. When sensitive materials are at risk geofences can act as an invisible alarm systems that protects both digital and physical materials from leaving authorized areas.

Civic and community organizations have also been using geofences. School and college campuses offer geofences for secure network access to things like student records and other services. Sporting events can send real-time alerts to fans out in the parking lot about the game. Neighborhoods provide community wide Wi-Fi to residents or visitors and share community events. Residents can also use these geofenced zones as if they were mirroring physically gated-neighborhoods and extend heartfelt welcomes – or stern warnings – to those that enter its perimeter.  The state of Texas in the U.S. also sends out SMS alerts to automobile drivers on the interstate system about accidents, missing persons, or other public-service and emergency announcements.

For social networking, geofences can provide an intranet of connections between people that occupy the same geographic location. Providing a means to share messages to peers and outsiders about events and activities, geofencing, can allow people to form co-located digital cliques based on similarities of interest and location. |=|A|+|B|-|A∩B|
Figure 1: Inclusion-exclusion principle of mathematics. For illustrative purposes only. After all, everyone loves a good equation now and again.

While geofencing carries with it plenty of straightforward advantages, it is by definition a procedure of separating people, places, and things through processes of inclusion and exclusion. These processes, be they engineered or naturally formed, define more than just geographic regions, but also claim people, services, and resources via the quick and ready use of widespread modern technologies.

| A∪B|=|A|+|B|-|A∩B|
Figure 1: Inclusion-exclusion principle of mathematics. For illustrative purposes only. After all, everyone loves a good equation now and again.

Social exclusion refers to processes in which individuals or groups of people are blocked from rights, opportunities and resources (e.g. housing, employment, healthcare, civic engagement, democratic participation and due process) that are normally available to members of society and which are key to social integration. Where social inclusion is the opposite processes of offering these things to people and places that they belong.

There is apparent risk of geofencing to be an updated version of redlining, a process of discrimination that isolated certain people by socio-demographic traits like race and class, that dynamically dictate membership of “now you’re in, now you’re not” instantaneously.

A geofencing community can lay claim to another geographic area or alter its boarders as needed to grab a few people here and cut a few over there out. This can both create territorial bounds for community and individual identities and destroy the reputation of others. Social elitists can demarcate the newest hip-scene to be seen in and can at the same time kick to the curb outdated venues or areas as yesterdays hangout spots.

The implications of this rapid construction and destruction of identities has yet to be fully understood, but one can wonder what will the Brooklyn of tomorrow look like? Or, better yet: where will it be tomorrow and who is “in” now and “out” like yesterday?

In order to understand, promote, and prevent the right-and-wrong outcomes of geofencing requires a deeper understanding of what kinds of information is being shared, who is using it, and for what purposes. While technology shows no sign in abating the amount of digital information that can be shared through LBS, geofencing is an inevitable concern for all of us. Whether on onside of the digital divide or another, geofencing will likely define how we understand concepts of the city and ourselves in the future.