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Geospatial Commission outlines four components for trust in location data

17/12/21

Mark Say Managing Editor

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People want better control over how their location data is used, but recognise that there are no easy answers to ensuring ethical practice, according to a new report from the Geospatial Commission.

It has published the findings of its public dialogue on location data ethics, delivered by public engagement specialist Travers and researchers from the Ada Lovelace Institute.

The report highlights a number of concerns and produces four components on how to win public trust in the use of the data.

Concerns include worries about the risks of data being misused or breached, and that regulators currently have a limited ability to bring data collectors to account, especially those in multi-national companies. Most participants also felt that current information about data use is inaccessible to them as it is too complex and hidden within lengthy text.

While they acknowledged benefits in areas such as public health and city planning, they felt these are usually framed as being for the wider public while risks are focused on individual concerns.

They also expressed a need for a more granular and less intrusive or complex ways to consent to or have control over how their location data is collected and used.

Ethical approach

These findings have prompted the Geospatial Commission towards outlining four components for ethical and trustworthy use of the data. They include that there should be an intent to benefit society, effective accountability, and accessible transparency in that data collectors should communicate more effectively.

In addition, there is a need to enable agency, with more genuine ways to consent and participate in ongoing data storage and use, and a greater choice over how the data is used.

Thalia Baldwin

Writing in the report’s foreword, Geospatial Commission director Thalia Baldwin (pictured) says: “We will continue our programme of work to explore the opportunities and how we operationalise the findings of the report, including what more transparency would look like in practice to move the public from feeling like data subjects to being empowered data citizens.

“I am confident that, through engaging a diverse set of voices, we can continue to support the UK to reap the economic, social, and environmental benefits of location data in a way that mitigates ethical and privacy concerns and grows the trust of citizens. Today’s report is an important step in achieving that aim.”

The dialogue involved 85 members of the public from all four nations of the UK. Its findings will influence the guidance on location data ethics to be published by the commission next year.

Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0

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