Great links from class today

Today was WebGIS and the Geoweb (I know, we could do a whole semester), and rounded up some nice resources. 

  1. Open Street Map interactions (from Vanessa):
    1. Here is Overpass Turbo, the OSM data filtering site.
    2. Here is Tag Info, where you can find the keys to query information on Overpass Turbo.
  2. Privacy (from Wyeth): Radiolab did a great piece on the intersection between GIS data and privacy.
    1. Link to the article: (this is the updated article after changes from the original broadcast in June 2015 [] ) 
    2. Also, the company that developed from this:

Mapping the Berkeley Boom: Social Media and Mapping Help Unravel a Mystery

Last night we heard the Berkeley Boom again.  We’ve been hearing this thunderous boom quite frequently in the last month here in Berkeley, but this one sounded bigger than most.  Car alarms went off on the street.  The dog jumped.  “What IS that?” I wondered aloud.  With a quick search on the internet I found that that the Berkeley Boom is a phenomena whose Twitter reports are being actively mapped.  While Berkeley police and residents still have no idea what the mystery boom is, through the combined powers of social media and mapping we are gathering an understanding of where it is happening.  As Berkeley residents continue reporting the boom (#BerkeleyBoom), perhaps we’ll get to the bottom of this, the newest of Berkeley’s many mysteries. 

For more on the Berkeley Boom see the Berkeleyside article:

Map from Berkeleyside Article:

Conference at UCB on Digital Privacy and Surveillance - March 6

Pan-Optics: Perspectives on Digital Privacy and Surveillance

March 6, 10:30 a.m.-4 p.m. 310 Sutardja Dai Hall, Banatao Auditorium

Featured Speakers: Rebecca MacKinnon, Senior Research Fellow, New America Foundation; Trevor Paglen, Artist, Social Scientist, and Author

Advances in drone aircraft, networked cameras, and recent disclosures about the NSA’s international and domestic surveillance activities have stimulated public protests, outrage from activists, and new policy discussions among elected leaders. This symposium will highlight emerging perspectives on visual privacy and consider the state of the art from a variety of disciplines and professions, including technology, journalism, filmmaking and the arts.

Though traditionally considered separate domains, visual and digital surveillance practices are being combined as machine vision, facial recognition and other technologies become more sophisticated and interoperable. Institutional surveillance by semi-autonomous drones and remote cameras, citizen video monitoring, and incessant photo-sharing and tagging on social networks enable perpetual documentation. The same tools can be used for both transparency and repression.

This symposium will bring together scholars and practitioners from a range of disciplines to discuss privacy protections, surveillance methods, and modes of resistance in a digital age. The program will feature two keynote addresses and two panel discussions that will explore emerging surveillance technologies and applications across a range of contexts, and then turn to resistant strategies employed by individuals and organizations in response.

Registration required: $20 General Admission,  $10 Faculty or Staff,  $5 Students

Berkeley privacy expert and linguist analyze implications of NSA surveillance

Stolen from Berkeley Online (where we read about the bold choice of U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano as the 20th president of the UC), but worth the echo. The massive scale of domestic surveillance conducted by the National Security Administration has stunned many Americans. But Berkeley Law’s Chris Hoofnagle saw it coming. Nearly a decade ago, the lecturer in residence warned of increasingly broad and unchecked monitoring. Meanwhile, Geoffrey Nunberg, linguistics researcher and faculty member at Berkeley’s School of Information, discussed NSA surveillance of Americans’ phone records and Internet activity on National Public Radio’s “Fresh Air with Terry Gross.”

Conference wrap up: DataEdge 2013

The 2nd DataEdge Conference, organized by UC Berkeley’s I School, has wrapped, and it was a doozy. The GIF was a sponsor, and Kevin Koy from the Geospatial Innovation Facility gave a workshop Understanding the Natural World Through Spatial Data. Here are some of my highlights from what was a solid and fascinating 1.5 days. (All presentations are now available online.)

Michael Manoochehri, from Google, gave the workshop Data Just Right: A Practical Introduction to Data Science Skills. This was a terrific and useful interactive talk discussing/asking: who/what is a data scientist? One early definition he offered was a person with 3 groups of skills: statistics, coding or an engineering approach to solving a problem, and communication. He further refined this definition with a list of practical skills for the modern data scientist:

  • Short-term skills: Have a working knowledge of R; be proficient in python and JavaScript, for analysis and web interaction; understand SQL; know your way around a unix shell; be familiar with distributed data platforms like Hadoop; understand the Data Pipeline: collection, processing, analysis, visualization, communication.
  • Long-term skills: Statistics: understand what k-means clustering is, multiple regression, Baysien inference; and Visualization: both the technical and communication aspects of good viz.
  • Finally: Dive into a real data set; and focus on real use cases.

Many other great points were brought up in the discussion: the data storage conundrum in science was one. We are required to make our public data available: where will we store datasets, how will we share them and pay for access of public scientific data in the future?

Kate Crawford, Principal Researcher, Microsoft Research New England gave the keynote address entitled The Raw and the Cooked: The Mythologies of Big Data. She wove together an extremely thoughtful and informative talk about some of our misconceptions about Big Data: the “myths” of her title. She framed the talk by introducing Claude Levi-Strauss’ influential anthropological work “The Raw and the Cooked” - a study of Amerindian mythology that presents myths as a type of speech through which a language and culture could be discovered and learned. You know you are in for a provocative talk in a Big Data conference when the keynote leads with CLS. She then presented a series of 6 myths about Big Data, illustrated simply with a few slides each. Here is a quick summary of the myths:

  1. Big Data is new: the term was first used in 1997, but the “pre-history” of Big Data originates much earlier, in 1950s climate science for example, or even earlier. What we have is new tools driving new foci.
  2. Big Data is objective: she used the example of post-Sandy tweets, and makes the point that while widespread, these data are a subset of a subset. Muki Haklay makes the same point with his cautionary: “you are mining the outliers” comment (see previous post). She also pointed out that 2013 marks the point in the history of the internet when 51% of web traffic is non-human. Who are you listening to?
  3. Big Data won't discriminate: does BD avoid group level prejudice? We all know this, people not only have different access to the internet, but given that your user experience has been framed by your previous use and interaction with the web, the rich and the poor see different internets.
  4. Big Data makes cities smart: there are numerous terrific examples of smart cities (even many in the recent news) but resource allocation is not even. When smart phones are used for example to map potholes needing repair, repairs are concentrated in areas where cell phone use is higher: the device becomes a proxy for the need.
  5. Big Data is anonymous: Big Data has a Big Privacy problem. We all know this, especially in the health fields. I learned the new term “Health Surrogate Data” which is information about your health that results from your interaction with the Internet. Great stuff for Google Flu Tracker for example, but still worrying. The standard law for protection in the public health field, HIPAA, is similar to “bringing a knife to a gunfight” as she quoted Nicholas Terry.
  6. You can opt out: there are currently no clear ways to opt out. She asks: how much would you pay for privacy? And if the technological means to do so were created and made widespread, we would likely see the development of privacy as a luxury good, further differentiating internet experience based on income.

The panel discussion Digital Afterlife: What Happens to Your Data When You Die? moderated by Jess Hemerly from Google, and including Jed Brubaker from UC Irvine and Stephen Wu, a technology and intellectual property attorney was eye-opening and engaging. Each speaker gave a presentation from their expertise: Stephen Wu gave us a primer on digital identity estate planning and Jed Brubaker shared his research on the spaces left in social media when someone dies. Both talks were utterly fascinating, thought provoking and unique.

And finally, Jeffrey Heer from Stanford University gave a stunning and fun talk entitled Visualization and Interactive Data Analysis showcased his Viz work, and introduced to many of us Data Wrangler, which is awesome.

Great conference!

Google is fined for collecting private info with Street View

We're not just taking pictures any more... All over the channels this morning is the $7B fine paid by Google to multiple states for violating public privacy.

From the NYTimes: Google on Tuesday acknowledged to state officials that it had violated people’s privacy during its Street View mapping project when it casually scooped up passwords, e-mail and other personal information from unsuspecting computer users.

Google says "we work hard to get privacy right at Google, but in this case we didn’t, which is why we quickly tightened up our systems to address the issue.” A more sceptical view is found here: Scott Cleland's blog: (including a Google Privacy Rap Sheet).

The new settlement, which requires Google to set up a privacy program within six months, that includes an annual privacy week event for employees, and training for the public on how to protect themselves.

A great week for radio

What a great week for radio and matters geospatial+web. On Wednesday last week we finished out our GIS class with a talk about the geoweb and issues of access, bias, motivation, control, and of course privacy. I used alot of William Gibson's previous writings about Google (posted here earlier) in that lecture. Yesterday TTBOOK re-aired a great interview with Gibson, on the topic of writing, but also about the internet. I recommend it. Additionally, last week Talk of the Nation had a interesting interview with Jerry Brotton about his new book "A History of the World in Twelve Maps"; the interview touched on Google Earth and representation, why north is up, and many other fantastic questions raised through the history of cartography. Check them out!

Follow up on Supreme Court gps+privacy case

From the NYTimes. Police Are Using Phone Tracking as a Routine Tool. By Published: March 31, 2012.

Law enforcement tracking of cellphones, once the province mainly of federal agents, has become a powerful and widely used surveillance tool for local police officials, with hundreds of departments, large and small, often using it aggressively with little or no court oversight, documents show.

A GPS tracker. The Supreme Court recently ruled that such a device placed on a suspect's car was an unreasonable search.

The Supreme Court recently ruled that such a device placed on a suspect's car was an unreasonable search (but sidestepepd the question of how to treat information gathered from devices installed by the manufacturer and how to treat information held by third parties like cellphone companies). The practice has become big business for cellphone companies, too, with a handful of carriers marketing a catalog of “surveillance fees” to police departments to determine a suspect’s location, trace phone calls and texts or provide other services. Some departments log dozens of traces a month for both emergencies and routine investigations.

With cellphones ubiquitous, the police call phone tracing a valuable weapon in emergencies like child abductions and suicide calls and investigations in drug cases and murders. One police training manual describes cellphones as “the virtual biographer of our daily activities,” providing a hunting ground for learning contacts and travels.


Farm surveillance for subsidy checking: the case in Europe

Europe's farmers receive payments for maintaining basic standards on the environment, food safety, plant health and animal welfare. In this BBC article "spying on Europe’s farms with satellites and drones" Lawrence Peter discusses the use of UAVs in conjunction with satellite imagery to validate and verify farmers' subsidies without having to send inspectors in person. They are not used everywhere: Austria does not use them, on the grounds that the shadows cast by very mountainous terrain sometimes make satellite images inaccurate. And Scotland, unlike the rest of the UK, decided against satellites because of the difficulty of getting enough clear weather for flyovers.


  • Agriculture accounted for 42% of the EU's budget in 2011 - about three-quarters of that went on direct payments to farmers, totalling 44bn euros (£37bn; $58bn)
  • In each EU country, at least 5% of farms must be inspected every year - and many check more than 5%
  • Satellites carried out about 70% of all inspections in 2010
  • Growth of satellite monitoring has cut number of infringements
  • EU officials say fraud accounts for only a small fraction of the irregularities - in most cases farmers overclaim because of a miscalculation

That was fast! Supreme Court rules on GPS & privacy

From the NYTimes today. The Supreme Court on Monday unanimously ruled that the police violated the Constitution when they placed a Global Positioning System tracking device on a suspect’s car and monitored its movements for 28 days.

But the justices divided 5-to-4 on the rationale for the decision, with the majority saying that the problem was the placement of the device on private property. That ruling avoided many difficult questions, including how to treat information gathered from devices installed by the manufacturer and how to treat information held by third parties like cellphone companies.

Walter Dellinger, a lawyer for the defendant in the case and a former acting United States solicitor general, said the decision “is a signal event in Fourth Amendment history.” “Law enforcement is now on notice,” he said, “that almost any use of G.P.S. electronic surveillance of a citizen’s movement will be legally questionable unless a warrant is obtained in advance.”

Previous wrap-up post on the case.

The evolving privacy debate: Jeffrey Rosen on Fresh Air

Last month in GIS class we had a lively discussion about GIS and privacy. We discussed the idea that while privacy is defined differently in social and legal domains, usually with legal frameworks being a more reactive than prescriptive, at least in the US. But legal and social norms are increasingly shaped by technology: facebook and the like might be pushing the bounds on what is socially acceptable to reveal about yourself, lowering our tolerance for invasions of privacy; smaller GPS make it easier for the police to surveil suspects. Anyway, in a Fresh Air great show, George Washington University law professor Jeffrey Rosen, the co-editor of the new book Constitution 3.0: Freedom and Technological Change, details how technological changes that were unimaginable at the time of the Founding Fathers are challenging our notions of things like personal vs. private space, freedom of speech and our own individual autonomy. It is a fascinating interview:

A wrap-up of the news surrounding Supreme Court's foray into GPS + privacy

United States vs. Jones raises questions about the limits of police searches, personal privacy and the use of new technology in law enforcement. At issue is whether police need warrants to attach GPS tracking devices to a cars to monitor suspects' movements for indefinite periods of time.

Stay tuned for more analysis. From NPR, some indication that the Supreme Court was not happy with un-warranted GPS tracking. The justices were told police could slap GPS devices on their cars and track their movements, without asking a judge for advance approval.

Also an interesting take from Wired: A number of Supreme Court justices invoked the specter of Big Brother while hearing arguments Tuesday over whether the police may secretly attach GPS devices on Americans’ cars without getting a probable-cause warrant.

While many justices said the concept was unsettling, the high court gave no clear indication on how it will rule in what is arguably one of the biggest Fourth Amendment cases in the computer age. The Obama administration maintains that Americans have no privacy rights when it comes to their movements in public.

Another informative opinion piece from the Washington Post.

Google acquires facial recognition technology company

Missed this earlier, but found it in prep for my privacy and GIS lecture. The article is excerpted here:

Google has acquired a seven-year-old company that develops facial-recognition technology for images and video, though the Web-search giant didn’t say what it plans to do with it.

Regarding face recognition, the spokesman said, “We’ve said that we won’t add face recognition to our apps or product features unless we have strong privacy protections in place, and that’s still the case.”

Google has said it built facial recognition technology for smartphones into a product known as Google Goggles, but withheld it. “As far as I know, it’s the only technology that Google built and after looking at it, we decided to stop,” said Google Chairman Eric Schmidt last month at a conference. “People could use this stuff in a very, very bad way as well as in a good way.”

Google Goggles is pretty sweet, by the way.

Privacy and the web

An interesting article about the use of social-media, such as facebook, for employment background checks.

The article points out that "some companies are mining photo- and video-gathering sites using facial-recognition software" so a person could still be identified by potential employers in seemingly anonymous photos.


Yikes! GPS surveillance reported on NPR

One more for the privacy files. From When Yasir Afifi took his car in for an oil change, his mechanic found an unusual wire hanging from below. It was part of a black rectangular device attached to his car by a magnet. After posting photos of it on an online forum, where posters identified it as a GPS tracking device, Afifi, a Santa Clara, Calif., college student and computer salesman, got a visit from FBI agents demanding their equipment back.

The FBI confirms the device belongs to the agency and that agents visited Afifi to get it back. But Special Agent Joseph Schadler won't say why it was there. Full article

The future is already here – it's just not evenly distributed. Or maybe it is.

William Gibson (yes that one) in the NYTimes Opinion page, writes about Google, and the way it has changed how we interact with information and the world. It is a really interesting article touching on human choice, surveillance, and the catch-up game the law plays with technology. This visionary author of Neuromancer says "Science fiction never imagined Google..." and goes on to describe its omipresence, our ready participation in this process, and our discomfort at the result. He is a fantastic writer. Check it:

Google is not ours. Which feels confusing, because we are its unpaid content-providers, in one way or another. We generate product for Google, our every search a minuscule contribution. Google is made of us, a sort of coral reef of human minds and their products.

Wow. Here is another example of his engaging and illuminating prose:

Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon* prison design is a perennial metaphor in discussions of digital surveillance and data mining, but it doesn’t really suit an entity like Google. Bentham’s all-seeing eye looks down from a central viewpoint, the gaze of a Victorian warder. In Google, we are at once the surveilled and the individual retinal cells of the surveillant, however many millions of us, constantly if unconsciously participatory. We are part of a post-geographical, post-national super-state, one that handily says no to China. Or yes, depending on profit considerations and strategy.

The title of this post comes from his oft-cited quote in 2003 in The Economist.

*About the Panopticon from wikipedia: The Panopticon is a type of prison building designed by English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham in 1785. The concept of the design is to allow an observer to observe (-opticon) all (pan-) prisoners without the incarcerated being able to tell whether they are being watched, thereby conveying what one architect has called the "sentiment of an invisible omniscience."

Year-end comments on self-location technology and privacy

As many in recent academic papers have pointed out (e.g. Sarah Ellwood, Jerry Dobson, Michael Goodchild) we seem, for a number of reasons, to be increasingly comfortable disclosing our location by "opting in" to technology that in addition to being very useful, also allows our surveillance. I am not talking Lucy Milligan-style gps necklaces here, but more common fare: gps-enabled cell phones, street view, cctv cameras and the like.  These technologies and our use of them might be changing our notions of our “reasonable expectations of privacy”. It is perhaps no coincidence that in this season for the media to summarize the year's news, there have been many interesting examples focusing on the interface between privacy and geo-location. Consider these:

  • Along those lines is the much posted recent revelation that Sprint has so far filled over 8 million requests from law enforcement for customer GPS data. Posted at Engaget and elsewhere.

Welcome to 2010, another exciting year in mapping technology no doubt.

Awesome (and useful) Mashup Example

We've all seen numerous examples of "mashups", or webmaps containing information from multiple resources, in the past year. Of course, I'm a big fan of the mashup... I'm also a big fan of finding a great mix between form and function, as anyone who's involved with cartographic design can attest to. This mashup appears to have captured this essence quite well, combining simplicity, good cartographic design and decent ergonomics. It's also open source! Oh, and did I mention that it's highly useful?

...and for you East Bay-ers

A downside to sharing historical maps

From the SF Chron: When Google Earth added historical maps of Japan to its online collection last year, the search giant didn't expect a backlash. The finely detailed woodblock prints have been around for centuries, but they show the locations of former low-caste communities. The maps date back to the country's feudal era, when shoguns ruled and a strict caste system was in place. Some surveys have shown that such neighborhoods have lower property values than surrounding areas, and residents have been the target of racial taunts and graffiti. But the modern locations of the old villages are largely unknown to the general public, until these maps were overlain on current street maps.