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Locus Charter launched for ethical use of location data


Mark Say Managing Editor

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A set of principles for the ethical use of location data has been formally launched with a call for input on how they could be further developed.

The Benchmark Initiative, set up by national mapping agency Ordnance Survey and social change venture the Omidyar Network, has published the Locus Charter to improve the understanding of risks and solutions relating to the use of location data.

It reflects the growing use of location data in public and private sector services and comes soon after the Geospatial Commission has announced a public dialogue project to test attitudes on the issue.

The charter has been available online for some time as a draft version and subject to change, but the leaders of the project have decided it is time to declare them ready for use.

Co-founder of the Benchmark Initiative Denise McKenzie said: “There is an increasing expectation for us as technologists to become clearer about what is we’re doing with people’s location data, what it is we are doing with it and how we are doing it. That’s because at the end of the day we all want to enjoy the richness of insights and benefits to the world that geospatial data can bring.

“It’s much less about stopping bad things happening and much more about giving confidence to people around the world.”

10 principles

The charter consists of 10 principles developed through a series of international workshops and which are intended to form the basis for further collaboration:

  • Realise the opportunities, as location data can provide many social and economic benefits.
  • Understand impacts on individuals and groups and use it to make informed and proportionate decisions.
  • Do no harm to people or the environment.
  • Protect the vulnerable who can be disproportionately harmed by misuse of the data.
  • Address any possibility of bias in how the data is collected, used and combined.
  • Minimise any intrusion involved.
  • Minimise the amount of data collected as most applications do not require the most invasive scale of tracking available.
  • Protect privacy. In the rare cases when aggregated and anonymised location data will not meet the need, any location data that identifies individuals should be respected, protected and used with informed consent.
  • Prevent the identification of individuals, and recognise that the more data is used the more the anonymity erodes.
  • Provide accountability, allowing people to interrogate how data is collected and used.

Another of the initiative’s co-founders, Ben Hawes, said: “These principles have to be tested in practice. Please use the charter to structure questions about your practice, potential impacts and how you develop good practice in your organisation.

“Ask questions about whether this is too much, too little or wrong. Use it in round tables, training and development, and join the community and international conversation.”


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