GeoEthics Webinar Series
In 2021, AAG joined with the Center for Spatial Analysis at University of California Santa Barbara and Esri to convene a series of multi-disciplinary, multi-dimensional discussions that have called upon a wide range of practitioners—in academia and government, the private sector and the grassroots—to address the implications of ever-more precise technology for geolocation and the ever-more pervasive panopticon of public life. The goal of the series – which will lead up to an in-person Summit in June 2022 -- is to collectively think through and address the potentialities--both promising and concerning--of putting mapping, visualization, surveillance, facial recognition, and data collection at the fingertips of an ever-widening range of practitioners.
The GeoEthics Series topics have included these:
- Surveillance: technical potential, biometrics, impacts on individuals, facial recognition
- Labor and employment: surveillance in the workplace, regulation, best practices, fair dealings
- Governance: alternative models, ties between private and public entities, regulation, data ownership, localization, open data/software
- Geospatial analytics: artificial intelligence, prediction, generalizability, ecological fallacy, re-identification of anonymized data
See the List of Webinars organized by our committee, and some of their recordings.
The project is being organized and coordinated by a committee chaired by Gary Langham (Executive Director, AAG) and Michael Goodchild (University of California, Santa Barbara), and including Jeremy Crampton (University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK), Krzysztof Janowicz (University of California, Santa Barbara), Mei-Po Kwan (Chinese University of Hong Kong), William Herbert (Hunter College of the City University of New York), Katina Michael (Arizona State University), and Richard Appelbaum (University of California, Santa Barbara).
Why this Series?
Geospatial technologies have unleashed unprecedented power for pinpointing locations, learning about places, and spatializing data. With that power comes a range of urgent ethical questions. The consequences for individual privacy are of great concern, but so too are the assumptions, objectives, and inferences that underpin geospatial practice.
At their best, advances in geodata and tools can contribute to greater public transparency; opportunities for citizen science and participatory mapping; agency, input, and control for community residents in safeguarding their rights; non-intrusive remote sensing of fragile areas and wildlife; finely honed disaster response; and humanitarian aid. These advances are made possible through the research and practices of geographers and other geospatial practitioners, who apply their insight and understanding of location and spaces to enhance and advance the planning, design, and care of places.
There is no denying the risks, infringements, and abuses that are also inherently possible in geolocational technologies, from intrusive surveillance to worker intimidation, from human rights threats to citizens to policing of refugees and other immigrants, from objectification of study areas to the flattening of context inherent in Big GeoData. Geographers, working in partnership with practitioners, activists, and scholars from many disciplines, play a critical role in understanding and addressing the complex issues of geoethics.
What will be next, after the Series?
This GeoEthics Series will lead up to an in-person Summit in June 2022, sponsored by Esri, and that brings together a breadth of disciplines, including social science, computer science, humanities, and legal scholars and professionals to further discuss locational information and the public interest. We expect about thirty experts at the summit to collaborate on a high-level report that builds a framework for continued and collaborative work in the coming years, including:
A research agenda on locational information and the public interest. This agenda would include research questions that go across disciplines.
An outline for educational materials and training goals deemed newly essential for students and practitioners to acquire about the ethics of locational information in order to recognize their innovative and social implications. The materials and goals would target those making use of locational data, which is an audience that increasingly crosses disciplines (geographers, computer scientists, data scientists, journalists, and more).
A pathway that could lead to better “public” understanding of federal and state regulations around locational information in and outside the U.S. The pathway should include “which publics” to prioritize and how to engage them in order to help build broader awareness and agency about federal and state regulation.
A pathway that could lead to increased dialogue with non-traditional and indirect stakeholders of the geospatial industry and increased collaboration between academic, public, and private sectors on the use of locational information. The pathway should include “which stakeholders” could be engage and what can support new collaborations.
The target audiences for the outcomes of this summit would be academic scholars, educators, certifying bodies, GIS (Geographic Information Systems) professionals, spatial data scientists, and students across the increased breadth of disciplines that use locational information.