Tag Archives: data activism

Your Device: Your data. How to save your iPhone location data (and help researchers make the world a better place)

An hour ago, Apple announced that it has released a patch for iOS and iTunes, which reduces the size of the location cache stored on your machine, and prevents an automatic back-up through iTunes.

Good news, right?

I don’t think so. Apple is still collecting this data, still getting this data from you, and still using it. The only difference is that you can’t use your own data.

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.┬áThis data would be extraordinarily useful for researchers – people studying how diseases spread, trying to solve traffic-flow problems, and researching human mobility.

With all of this in mind, some colleagues and I have been working on a project for the last week called openpaths.cc. It lets you upload your location data from your iDevice, securely store it, explore it via a map interface, and we’ll eventually offer you a system to directly donate your data to well-deserving research projects.

We’re pushing this project out quickly in hopes that we can gather as many location files as we can before people upgrade iOS and iTunes.

Visit openpaths.cc now to upload, explore, and securely store your iDevice location data.

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.

In the short term, I am hoping we can collect and store enough locational data to be of use to researchers. So please, before you upgrade iOS and iTunes, visit openpaths.cc and make your own data your own data. And please (please) – pass this on.

Data Activism and Climate Reality

Today, the UK’s Met Office released a subset of a large record of global temperature readings. This data set has been at the core of a lot of scientific research supporting the idea that the planet is getting warmer, including the controversial IPCC Assessment Reports.

Here is the data currently available, representing decades of data from over 1,500 land stations. As you can read on the linked page, the Met is at work to get more of this data released as soon as possible. There is some urgency here – the hope is that hard, un-deniable numbers might finally put some of the ‘debate’ surrounding the issue to rest.

Manuel Lima from VisualComplexity wrote a convincing blog post today, suggesting that the data community (how’s that for a general grouping?) can offer a lot to this cause. I couldn’t agree more. The general public certainly won’t gain much from this pile of strangely formatted text files – but they might be swayed by some well built, innovative visualizations that communicate and convince. Certainly, we can do better than the current graphics:

Met Office Visualization

In order for this to be effective, I’d suggest three things are necessary:

1) Easy Access. I would love to see the data set placed into some format which is easily accessible, to save the work of everyone having to parse the data individually. Google Spreadsheets? MySQL tables? JSON? All of the above? Edit – mySQL tables are now available, along with a Perl parsing script, in the climate data forum (http://climatedata.blprnt.com)

2) Coordination. It would be useful to have a central place for people working with the data to ask questions and to share results. Ideally, a repository of graphics and interactive tools could be made available to the public and to the press.

3) Dialogue with Climate Scientists. The IPCC has more than 2500 expert reviewers, 800 contributing authors, and 450 lead authors. These people know what information needs to be shown, and what stories need to be told. Any effective effort to produce visualizations from this data would benefit from their input.

How does this start? As a quick measure to help with suggestion #2, I’ve created an open forum where we can start a dialogue, discuss some of these questions, and hopefully come up with some answers. For now, you can access the forum here:


Please pass on this invitation to any data-folks you might now – and of course any climate scientists, journalists, or other curious types who might want to get involved.