GeoPrivacy and Education

The proliferation of location-based services and smart technologies has led to the leveraging of location data for unexpected uses. Like the concept of privacy itself, geoprivacy goes by a number of definitions. Most commonly, geoprivacy is the right of individuals to determine the extent to which their location is shared with others. I like this definition, because it assumes a sense of agency among us as individuals to protect our own location privacy.

I am a geoprivacy researcher. Most of my research is on geomasking techniques, which alter location data to protect privacy while still maintaining overall spatial patterns. I also study personal location masking, or the strategies individuals use to protect their own location privacy. Examples include providing an incorrect address, altering your IP address, or moving a map pin away from your physical location. These are all junctures at which we decide how much of our location to provide. However, much of what happens with our location data takes place behind the scenes. For instance, this year it was revealed that AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint were collecting smartphone locations, even with location services turned off, and selling them to bounty hunters. There are many ethical questions related to geoprivacy, such as who should have access to personal location data, how it should be collected, and for what purposes.

My EthicalGEO project is a video toolbox of geoprivacy-related films to teach geoprivacy concepts in high school and college courses. Following the narrative/case-study method of teaching ethics, the films are intended to be current, relatable, and follow storylines based on actual geoprivacy-related events. With a set of follow-up exercises, the toolbox equips students with the critical thinking skills to recognize the consequences of unchecked personal location sharing and exercise ethical decision-making. The toolbox aims to prepare students to consider the more downstream societal implications of location data collection and to encourage privacy-by-design principles as students enter the workforce.

Dr. Dara E. Seidl is an independent researcher and GIS professional who writes about geoprivacy. In response to a need for interactive geospatial ethics training, Dara will use her fellowship to build an entertaining resource for teaching ethical collection, use, and access to location data.