Location Data Technologies and Their Societal Implications – UCL Digital Ethics Forum 

The third in the series of UCL Digital Ethics Forum Workshops was held in the Institute of Education (UCL), January 10th.

Hosted by, Mirco Musolesi (UCL Geography) and Didem Ozkul (UCL Culture, Communication and Media) the following presentations were heard:

  • Why Location Matters? For Whom? (Didem Özkul, UCL)
  • Benchmark: Addressing Ethical Challenges around Location Data (Ben Hawes, Geovation)
  • Some Lessons on Applied Data Science for Location Data (Ricardo Silva, UCL)
  • Data Protection and Geospatial Data: The Regulator’s View (Carl Wiper, ICO)

A panel discussion with the above speakers was then chaired by Mirco Musolesi.

The workshop was concluded with group discussions centring on the questions: What are the challenges and opportunities for location data technologies? How can we define location data ethics? What should be the key issues we need to address?

A copy of the event abstract can be found below.

Event Abstract

How we move in space is unique. Just as a fingerprint can be traced back to its owner, anonymous data on location can also be linked back to individual users. We leave traces of our selves – how, where and with whom we used to be, or what we used to do – onto the physical and virtual fabric of our mobile communication devices and location-based platforms. Sometimes we consciously make the decision to record and save the present, and share it. Other times smartphones automatically save almost every move that we make and then present us (and others) with the “most frequently visited places”, or the places that fall outside our “routine”. These practices may at first seem as routine and unexciting for the many. However, no matter how unexciting or banal they could be, these location traces that we leave during the course of our lives are actually significant. They mean memories and emotions for us as, and they mean profiling of us for data scientists and brokers, and location-based advertising and marketing companies. Combined with many other sensing technologies that have silently made their ways into our pockets and homes, they render profiling of people and places possible with reliable accuracy. The significance of such data with geospatial references – location data – originates from their ability to provide a context for our habits, which provides a detailed picture of who we are.

In this workshop, we will discuss ethical and societal implications of location data technologies, including the applications of AI/ML algorithms to this class of data. The goal is to inform the UCL Digital Ethics Strategy Report bringing together members of the UCL research community across all the Faculties.