Charter to promote responsible use of location data

The Locus Charter proposes common principles for the fair and ethical use of location data.

  • 3 years ago Posted in

A coalition of location data practitioners has developed an ethics charter to promote responsible use of location technology. The Locus Charter, facilitated by The Benchmark Initiative and EthicalGeo, is a proposed set of common international principles that can guide responsible practice when using location data, including through safeguarding privacy, protecting the vulnerable, and addressing any harmful impacts of bias in data.


The Benchmark Initiative and EthicalGeo are inviting individuals, businesses, and government agencies from around the world to join The Locus Charter community and help to shape equitable and sustainable practice around the use of location data. Member organisations include the American Geographical Society and Britain's mapping agency, Ordnance Survey.


Location data is currently at the heart of the debate around digital privacy. Tech giants Apple and Facebook  are in conflict over how much apps should be able to track users. Recent research shows personal information can be inferred from location data collected from smartphones, and that anonymisation can often be reversed to reveal people’s identities. The New York Times has unveiled a largely hidden trade in location data about individual people, collected from smartphones. As phones and other devices generate more detailed location data, these challenges grow.


The Locus Charter was developed in collaboration with location data and data ethics experts from across the globe and is supported by Omidyar Network, Omidyar Network, Henry Luce Foundation and Ordnance Survey. It will be launched at an online event on 24 March.


The Locus Charter aims to restore public trust in location technology, in order to enable its transformative power to, improve public health, enhance our response to the Covid-19 pandemicfight climate changeprotect the environment and more.


At present, there are no shared, international principles for responsible use of location data. The UK’s Geospatial Commission has committed to publish guidelines for the ethical use of location data, and the World Wide Web Consortium is exploring this area too. But at the moment, many users of location data don’t know what questions to ask, to make sure they can avoid unintended harms. The Locus Charter sets out the key areas where attention can improve standards of practice, help to protect vulnerable groups, and safeguard individual privacy and the broader public interest.


Denise McKenzie, Programme Director of the Benchmark Initiative, said: “Low public trust in technology can have public health consequences, as we have seen with lower than expected uptake in track and trace apps that help in the fight against Covid-19. If we want location technology to fulfil its potential as an effective tool for public good, then it must enjoy a high degree of public confidence. The Locus Charter offers an opportunity to enhance ethical practice in the use of location data, improving public trust in this powerful technology.”


Ben Hawes, Engagement Director of The Benchmark Initiative, said: “Location data can help us do great things now, and it will be really important in addressing challenges including climate change. But using it creates risks as well as opportunities. At the moment there are no common international principles to support responsible use of location data. We hope that the Charter starts that collaboration. We hope organisations and geospatial professionals will use it, and work together to promote good practice globally”.


Lisa Allen, Head of Data and Analytical Services at Ordnance Survey, said: “The ethical use of data is fundamental. Using this common framework sets a standard across location data. It is essential for our customers to trust our industry in our use of data. Location data offers greater insights, better decisions, and smarter outcomes. By embedding this charter, it is a commitment to managing and analysing location data in an ethical way”.


Nadine Alameh, CEO of the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) said "The focus on the ethical and responsible use of location data in this charter cannot come at a better time. I see this initiative as balancing our collective hunger for using increasingly-accessible location information with the need to consider - carefully and from the get-go - the ethical implications of such hunger and usage. The Locus Charter balances the technical innovation work of the geospatial tech community and brings us all one step closer to well-rounded guidance on the use of location information in today's world."


The Locus Charter principles are:

  1. Realise the benefits location data offer to society and economies
  2. Understand the potential impacts of using location datasets
  3. Do no harm when using location data
  4. Protect the vulnerable
  5. Recognise and address the impacts of bias in data
  6. Respect people’s dignity by avoiding unnecessary intrusion
  7. Do not collect or use more data than necessary for a task
  8. Actively protect privacy and seek consent
  9. Prevent identification of individuals
  10. Provide accountability about how data is used.
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