Association of American Geographers (AAG)
Annual Meeting

April 9-13, 2013
Los Angeles, CA USA

- Rodolphe Devillers (Memorial U. of Newfoundland)
- Francis Harvey (U. of Minnesota)
- Dawn Wright (Esri, Oregon State U.)

Following successful sessions at the 2009-2011 AAG meetings on ethics and GIScience, we are organizing sessions to continue and expand discussions of this important topic. Ethical engagements with the multitude of GIS applications and uses, whether surreptitious or overt, have marked recent developments in the field. Indeed, the variety of applications of geographic information science & technology (GIS&T) has led the U.S. Department of Labor to highlight geospatial/geographic technologies as the third largest high-growth job field for the 21st century. While the potential benefits and risks of geographic technologies are becoming well known, these sessions provides a forum to engage ethical issues. For instance:
  • Geographic technologies are surveillance technologies. The data they produce may be used to invade the privacy, and even the autonomy, of individuals and groups.
  • Data gathered using geographic technologies are used to make policy decisions. Erroneous, inadequately documented, or inappropriate data can have grave consequences for individuals and the environment.
  • Geographic technologies have the potential to exacerbate inequities in society, insofar as large organizations enjoy greater access to technology, data, and technological expertise than smaller organizations and individuals.
  • Georeferenced photos, tweets and volunteered (and unvolunteered) geographic information can reveal private information. Those data that are increasingly publically available and used to study societal phenomena raise significant privacy concerns.
Papers in this session again engaged with the above issues in relationship to GIScience, including such topics as:
  • case studies, curriculum development, or the pedagogy of teaching GIS ethical issues;
  • issues of privacy, surveillance, inequity, erroneous or inappropriate data concerning geographic technologies;
  • codes of ethics and conduct of professional organizations;
  • GIS professional development;
  • reflections on the changing nature of ethical issues in GIS&T
These sessions are co-sponsored by the AAG GI Systems & Science and Ethics, Justice, and Human Rights Specialty Groups.
Paper Session(s) | Resources | Contacts

Session Lineup 5460 | Session Lineup 5560

Presenter 1: Nancy J Obermeyer, Indiana State
From Accusation to Resolution: The GIS Certification Institute (GISCI) Ethics Process
[Presentation Cancelled]

Abstract. A core mission of the GIS Certification Institute (GISCI) is to encourage GIS Professionals (GISPs) to conduct themselves in an ethical manner. Failure to conduct oneself in an ethical manner may subject the GIS professional to charges of unethical conduct, which can lead to a hearing and possible loss of the GISP Certification. This paper discusses the evolution of the GISCI ethics procedures, from a process with but one sanction to one with several. The paper begins with a description of the origin and outline of the GISP ethics procedures. It continues with a discussion of early cases in which ethics charges were brought against a GISP and the implementation of the procedures in those cases. The paper raises the issue of protections for the GISP who is accused of violations, recognizing that an accusation is just that, an accusation. The very purpose of the procedures is to discover whether or not the accusation is based in fact and to reach an objective and fair outcome for all. The paper concludes with a discussion of how GISCI's procedures have been modified to achieve this objective.
Presenter 2: Rodolphe Devillers, Memorial University of Newfoundland
We need to adopt more ethical practices for geographic information data and products dissemination
[ Presentation file]

Abstract. GIS/Geospatial technologies are increasingly used to support decision-making processes, requiring people that are rarely experts in geographic information to manipulate data of various quality and interpret results from analyses loaded with uncertainty. While methods exist to evaluate and document the quality of geographic information and assess how uncertainty propagates through GIS operations, existing geospatial technologies are known to lack effective approaches to help organizations warn end-users of possible risks that could emerge from using given data or services for given usages in given areas. This problem is known to have led to a number of accidents and other adverse consequences, which are likely to increase as geospatial technologies become pervasive in our everyday life. We argue that in today's new era of geoproducts mass-market, data producers, web service providers, navigation and GIS vendors are largely failing to move towards a consumer-protection philosophy, and they could improve the ethics with regards to their professional practices. This paper illustrates examples of data misuses that have led to adverse consequences, discusses the nature of the problem that caused it, and describes different approaches that could be used to better support GIS users in the future in their tasks to reduce risks of misuse and possible adverse consequences. Possible solutions discussed will range from improving the communication of quality information, embedding a user context-sensitive warning system in GIS tools, or providing users an access to expert knowledge to better understand possible risks of misuse.
Presenter 3: Jacynthe Pouliot, Universite of Laval
Ethical principles for the Geomatics professional community: A first edition of a statement of values
[ Presentation file] | [Additional Info.]

Abstract. This paper presents one of the research outcomes of a 4-year Canadian GEOIDE (GEOmatics for Informed DEcisions) Network project that looked at public protection and ethical dissemination of geospatial data. The project that involved Geomatics engineering professionals, geographers and lawyers proposed a first edition of a statement of values adapted to the Geomatics professional community. It is the result of focus group meetings with Canadian participants from University institution (Université Laval), Government agencies (natural resources and transportation) and Private firms (Groupe Trifide and Bentley). Complementary to professional deontology codes, a statement of values may play important roles such as:
  • Helping the Geomatics community to maintain and enhance the public confidence in geospatial data
  • Guiding and supporting the users and producers of geospatial data in their activities (professional or not) in respect to the context of duties and responsibilities set out
  • Fostering the responsible use of geospatial data
  • Promoting Geomatics skills and for training purpose.
The first edition is organised around three main statements namely "Embracing a behavior marked by honesty and integrity," "Acting responsibly and being accountable for our actions and decisions," and "Making sure to hold the necessary skills and acting professionally." This presentation will explain the process undertaken to produce such a statement of values. Much iteration was required and the presence of an expert in ethics was of great impact in the success of this proposal.
Presenter 4: Dara Seidl, San Diego State University
Patterns of Inadvertent Privacy Violations from VGI in the United States
[Presentation file]

Abstract. The advent of Web GIS facilitates public access to a wealth of geographic information volunteered by citizens. Such information, previously principally collected and distributed by government and private entities, is now increasingly delivered by the people, who may not uphold the same standards in protecting privacy. The lack of industry standards protecting personal information when contributed by citizens can and does result in privacy violations as identifying location data are revealed. Such violations may be malicious, but are often inadvertent. This paper recounts some of the recent inadvertent privacy violations in the United States stemming from volunteered geographic information on the web. A classification system for these types of geographic privacy violations is suggested, as well as technology-side solutions that could be implemented to protect vulnerable parties.
Presenter 5: Susan Wolfinbarger, American Association for the Advancement of Science
Remote Sensing and Volunteered Geographic Information: Ethical Concerns
[Presentation file]

Abstract. Over the past decade, the technologies associated with remote sensing and volunteered geographic information have evolved and reached a point of technical capability that will allow unprecedented access to individuals around the globe in near real-time. Sub-meter remotely sensed imagery is increasingly available through commercial vendors within hours of collection. VGI, including tweets, photos, and videos shared on social networking sites frequently contain personally identifiable information about the user, including their whereabouts. This information is increasingly global in nature. The increasing availability of mobile devices no longer restricts users to the developed world. Both remote sensing and VGI are increasingly used as data sources for monitoring sensitive events, such as evolving crisis and disaster situations. In addition to the rapid gathering and dissemination of this geographic data, the use of it is increasingly by persons without a background in the issues and ethical concerns regarding the use of geographic information and its analysis. The possibilities for unethical research practices and misuse of information gathered are steadily increasing as more tools are developed for harvesting and aggregation of these types of data. Those conducting research using these technologies have the potential to do lasting harm to vulnerable populations by increasing their visibility and exposing them to increased risk, both online and on the ground. This presentation will examine the developing uses of these inherently geographic data sets by non-geographers, as well as the research and ethical issues that will likely arise in the near future as a result.
Presenter 6: Laxmi Ramasubramanian, Hunter College-City University of New York
Considering the Ethical Implications of Using Volunteered Geographic Information for Community-based Planning
[ Presentation file]

Abstract. Community-based planning advocates recommend working in close collaboration with those who are likely to be affected by planning decisions. A whole literature and mode of working has developed around the practice of community-based planning, anchored by public participation, deep community engagement, and community capacity building. However, we are seeing a rapid rise in the use of geo-referenced data collection to support planning efforts at a variety of spatial scales. These planning approaches use volunteered geographic information (VGI) and transform human beings into sensors, capable of transmitting information about their location and patterns of movement that can be collected and analyzed by others. The term VGI itself emphasizes the voluntary nature of these data transactions. The reality is far more complex because planners are using data even when the agreements/arrangements related to data acquisition are unclear. Significantly, the average citizen has very little opportunity to "opt in" to this type of research while the procedures for "opting out" are tedious.
   This paper focuses on my own experiences where I integrated volunteered geographic information to develop a communicative visualization tool to describe activity spaces of individuals and groups with limited transportation choices. The case study provides the data to discuss the complexities associated with the use of VGI to support spatial knowledge production, community capacity building and empowerment. By discussing the particulars of this case, I hope to draw conclusions and elucidate directions for future research about the use of VGI in community-based planning.
Presenter 7: Teresa Scassa, University of Ottawa
Ethical Mapping of Traditional Knowledge Through Template Licences
[Presentation file] | [Additional Info.]

Abstract. The mapping of traditional knowledge of indigenous communities in cybercartography offers significant potential benefits. Through the tools of cybercartography, communities may find new ways to record traditional knowledge in oral forms, to represent their communities to the world on their own terms, and to create an important record in their own language. The close relationship of indigenous peoples to particular lands and territories also speaks to the value of placing traditional knowledge in a geographic context. Yet digital cartography projects also raise challenging legal and ethical issues. Many of these relate to the tangle of intellectual property rights inherent in digital cartography projects and the lacunae in intellectual property law as it relates to traditional knowledge. Drawing from the examples of the contemporary open licencing movement (including Creative Commons), as well as emerging efforts to develop licences for traditional knowledge, this paper examines the potential for the use of template licences as tools to aid indigenous communities in setting the parameters for the use of their traditional knowledge in digital cartography.


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