mation around common geographical locations also allow government agencies to build massive databases on individuals and their behaviors (e.g., NRC, 2008a) and make it possible for the private sector to keep track of a wealth of personal information. The practitioners of the emerging field of “collective intelligence” acknowledge that, if misused, locational information on individuals “could create an Orwellian future on a level Big Brother could only dream of ” (Markoff, 2008). The geographical sciences are of central importance to this challenge because, as noted by the NRC Committee on Confidentiality Issues Arising from the Integration of Remotely Sensed and Self-Identifying Data (NRC, 2007b): “precise information about spatial location is almost perfectly identifying: if one knows where someone lives, one is likely to know the person’s identity.”

The social issues raised by these tools are more urgent today than two decades ago, and there is every indication that the urgency will grow in the future. The geographical sciences are central to understanding the nature and implication of new forms of data acquisition. Geographical scientists have the background and training to bring to bear language, guiding principles, and theoretical constructs that are relevant to locational and mapping technologies. They offer research methods that can facilitate the exploration, analysis, synthesis, and presentation of data about citizen mapping activities and their social implications. The concern of geographical scientists with place and context is particularly important, as the study of citizen mapping and locational privacy is not just about acquiring and using locational data. It is about understanding how data are used and viewed in particular places, and by particular communities. Geographical scientists wonder not only about the “where” of the present, but the implications of “where” for the future, and how spatial behaviors will change under the circumstances of traffic congestion, crisis (emergency evacuation from natural disaster, terrorist attack; e.g., Torrens, 2007), or even mass euphoria (musical concerts or a political rally). Bringing these concerns to bear on citizen mapping initiatives and locational data collection is essential to the effort to understand the social implications of geographical practices.

The responsibility of the geographical sciences to confront this issue becomes clear when one considers that geographical research itself may infringe upon the personal privacy rights of individuals. Box 11.1 describes one present-day example. The following research questions provide examples of issues that would be particularly productive to investigate.

BOX 11.1

Tracking Residents in Bath, England

‘There’s a storm brewing in [the English town of] Bath. Today’s Guardian newspaper reports that residents are being tracked without their knowledge. The tracking is part of a University of Bath project that’s called Cityware [a research collaboration of computer scientists and psychologists]. It’s designed to study how people move around cities. Here’s how it works. Cityware researchers have installed scanners at secret locations around Bath. Those scanners capture bluetooth radio signals. Bluetooth is a short-range wireless technology. It’s found in mobile phones, laptops, even digital cameras. Now if somebody in Bath moves by a scanner with his or her bluetooth device turned on, then Cityware can pinpoint that person’s whereabouts. The results are stored in a database. Researchers and city officials contend that they cannot identify anyone personally from the data collected, but the scanners don’t let Bluetooth users KNOW that they are being watched, and some have called ‘foul….’ [transcripted from the radio broadcast Public Radio International’s The World, as broadcast on July 21, 2008, available also at].

The researchers of this study maintain that the purpose of Cityware is not to track individuals, but to study the aggregate behavior of city dwellers as a whole, while also allowing those individuals to find their way around the city, participate in interactive citywide games and cultural activities, and access a host of information services while working, socializing, or relaxing (Lewis, 2008). The human rights “watchdog” group Privacy International has countered that “it would not take much adjustment to make this [Cityware] system an ubiquitous surveillance infrastructure over which we have no control” (Lewis, 2008).


What are the characteristics of the producers of VGI and how should we evaluate the content and quality of what they have produced?

Producers of VGI are themselves subjects of much needed research (e.g., who volunteers and why, what are their geographical and social characteristics, what kind of locational information are they interested in volunteering?). Initial studies have shown that people

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