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Websites like Facebook and Twitter allow users to accompany messages and public posts with geo-location information, including the GPS coordinates of where the post was made. The users may unknowingly be providing this information to potential criminals that wish to do them harm. Privacy settings allow users to turn geo-location off.

Case StudyEdit

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A recent case study conducted by geographic information system (GIS) professionals in Los Angeles revealed the implications of the geographic data that the users were providing themselves.[1] Using the built in Twitter API, applications can be created to filter posts that include geo-location information, tailor these results to a certain geographic location, and search through these posts for certain keywords. A screenshot of one of these applications is included in the article, showing a tweet containing the words “at home”, a picture of the poster, and a map showing the exact address of the user’s home.

Ethical AnalysisEdit

The posting of public geo-location information not only poses a security risk for the user, but for anybody else that lives with the user. However, some people would argue that the GIS professionals creating these tools are invading the users’ privacy. The user was not intending to post their GPS coordinates to be stored in a GIS database, but to simply post a message to their followers. If the collected information does result in harm, it is difficult to determine who is ethically responsible. From a utilitarian perspective, it is unethical for the GIS professionals to act in this way, as the potential damage that such a system would cause to the users would clearly outweigh the potential benefits. However, from a Kantian perspective, it would be unethical to prevent the GIS professionals from creating such a tool, since the users are essentially giving permission for the public to do what they wish with the information, and since one would be able to do everything that the program does manually, using a tool to conduct these searches more efficiently is not inherently morally reprehensible. According to Kant, blame would obviously be placed on the criminal that misused the information, but it can be said that the user that posted the information is also ethically in the wrong. The direct result of the user’s post was a criminal harming the user and their family, and it was the user’s responsibility to prevent that by either changing their privacy settings, removing the geo-location information from the post, or simply not posting on Twitter in the first place.

ReferencesEdit

  1. Weidemann, C. C., & Swift, J. J. (2013). Social Media Location Intelligence: The Next Privacy Battle - An ArcGIS add-in and Analysis of Geospatial Data Collected from Twitter.com. International Journal Of Geoinformatics, 9(2), 21-27.