02 Mar 2021

What is “responsible practice” with Geospatial Data?

Ben Hawes, Engagement Director of the Benchmark Initative looks at ethical best practice around Geospaital Data as part of the #GeospatialFuture Campaign

More and more data about places, and about people in places, are becoming available, helping us all get resources and services to exactly where they are needed.

But using location data involves risks as well as opportunities. Someone can be a user of a mobile map, and at the same time the subject of tracking in many digital mapping processes by organisations they aren’t aware of. As in other data domains, collection of data creates powers and possibilities, and these should be developed responsibly.

Data ethics principles already support good practice in many sectors (e.g. healthcare; online platforms), professions (e.g. data scientist; researcher; manager), and data categories (e.g. personal medical; online consumer; financial). Right now, there are no common principles to support responsible use of location data.

I think most users of location data want to do the right thing, but many don’t know where to start, to explore the potential impacts of what they do with data. In my title here, I’ve asked “What is “responsible practice” with geospatial data?”. The truth is, that depends on uses, contexts and risks. What has been lacking is a shared set of questions to ask, to make it easier for users to reach the right answers for their own situations.

This has been borne out by our activity since 2019, exploring data ethics for location through the Benchmark (UK) and EthicalGEO (US) initiatives. We have managed international conversations with many geospatial professionals and organizations, to explore what it means to use location data responsibly in different contexts. We found there was appetite for common, international principles to help users of geospatial data make more informed decisions, and to provide a basis for better discussions with people affected by their decisions. 

That’s why we have collaborated to develop the Locus Charter, a set of founding principles to guide responsible practice. On 24 March we will formally launch the Charter.

Developing common global principles must be a collaborative activity, respecting international contexts and perspectives. The Locus Charter was developed through our initial international workshops, and offers a focus for future collaboration. We will encourage you to use the Charter principles, share them, help us improve them, and join the network of organizations working together to promote ethical use of location data.

Here are the first two founding principles, to get you started.

Locus Charter Founding Principles 1 & 2

  1. Realize opportunities: Location data offers many social and economic benefits, and these opportunities should be realized responsibly.
  2. Understand impacts: Users of location data have responsibility to understand the potential effects of their uses of data, including knowing who (individuals and groups) and what could be affected, and how. That understanding should be used to make informed and proportionate decisions, and to minimize negative impacts.

Benchmark Initiative https://benchmarkinitiative.com/

You can read more insights from techUK's #GeospatialFuture campaign here!

Laura Foster

Laura Foster

Programme Manager, Technology and Innovation, techUK

Laura is techUK’s Programme Manager for Technology and Innovation.

She supports the application and expansion of emerging technologies across business, including Geospatial Data, Quantum Computing, AR/VR/XR and Edge technologies.

Before joining techUK, Laura worked internationally in London, Singapore and across the United States as a conference researcher and producer covering enterprise adoption of emerging technologies. This included being part of the strategic team at London Tech Week.

Laura has a degree in History (BA Hons) from Durham University, focussing on regional social history. Outside of work she loves reading, travelling and supporting rugby team St. Helens, where she is from.

[email protected]

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Zoe Brockbank

Programme Coordinator, Policy, Tech and Innovation, techUK

Zoe is a Programme Assistant, supporting techUK's work across Policy, Technology and Innovation.

The team makes the tech case to government and policymakers in Westminster, Whitehall, Brussels and across the UK on the most pressing issues affecting this sector and supports the Technology and Innovation team in the application and expansion of emerging technologies across business, including Geospatial Data, Quantum Computing, AR/VR/XR and Edge technologies.

Before joining techUK, Zoe worked as a Business Development and Membership Coordinator at London First and prior to that Zoe worked in Partnerships at a number of Forex and CFD brokerage firms including Think Markets, ETX Capital and Central Markets.

Zoe has a degree (BA Hons) from the University of Westminster and in her spare time, Zoe enjoys travelling, painting, keeping fit and socialising with friends.

[email protected]
020 7331 2174

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