Together with a few colleagues at NYTimes R&D, for the last week Jer Thorp has been working on a project called openpaths.cc. The site lets you upload your location data from your iDevice, securely store it and explore it via a map interface. It is an anonymous, user-contributed database for the personal location data files recorded by iOS devices. You can securely store and manage your personal location data, and grant researchers access to portions of that data as you choose.
The project is a direct response to recent announcement by Apple to no longer offer access to location data available in your backup files. Whilst some may think this protects your privacy, the team behind the project believes this data (your data) should be available to you and others who may really need it. Jer writes:
Location data is extremely useful. That’s why Apple, Google, and Microsoft are collecting it. Over the last year, Apple has, intentionally or not, created what is likely the largest locational database ever. This is a hugely, massively, ridiculously useful database. And with this new update, Apple are the only ones who will be able to get their hands on it. I believe that our data should be… well, our data. We should be able to store it securely, explore it, and use it for any purposes that we might choose. This data would be extraordinarily useful for researchers – people studying how diseases spread, trying to solve traffic-flow problems, and researching human mobility.
We are existing a world where data is being collected about us on a massive scale. This data is currently being stored, analyzed and monetized by corporations – there is little or no agency for the people to whom the data actually belongs. I believe that grass-roots initiatives like openpaths.cc can provide a framework for how data sovereignty can be established and managed.