Annually, a tradition I have with my kids is tracking Santa. For the last 60 years NORAD has sponsored a site that reveals the location of the toy bearing home invader, which often shows him getting close to the house just in time to get the little ones off to bed at a reasonable hour.
Photo Credit: NORAD
It’s a great use of GIS that teaches young kids about mapping and geography while still maintaining the spirit of the season. When working with critical mapping functions from city planning to environmental science, it’s sometimes easy to lose track of one of the coolest things about working in the GIS industry: it’s fun.
But as GIS continues to gather and utilize even more big data, Santa has turned the tables, and he’s watching us, mapping who is naughty and nice. Most of the time he is using information we are voluntarily giving away. What are we sharing, and how else is it being used?
Where we live, work, and recreate. When I was in the army, the first GPS units were bulky, truck mounted, and not super accurate. Now, we all carry one in our pocket, and if we enable location services, our movements are almost always being mapped. Google Location History is actually pretty scary: anyone with access to your Google account and password can take a look at where you’ve been and when.
Photo Credit: Google Location History
If you are on an IPhone, never fear. Your location is tracked as well, if you have the feature enabled, this is how you access it. Add this to whenever you “check in” on social media, and, somewhere there is a pretty accurate record of your location at any given time.
You can turn these features off to protect your privacy, but leaving them enabled is convenient, and can result in consumers saving money. “It is obvious that people value online privacy. What is not known is how much people value online privacy,” says Il-Horn Hann, Associate Professor of Information Systems at the University of Maryland in a study on the value of online information privacy. “We found that benefits – monetary reward and future convenience – significantly affect individuals’ preferences over websites with differing privacy policies.”
you can be sure Santa has a full complement of GIS elves at the North Pole gathering all the information they can find. You can’t blame the big guy for using the technology he leaves under our trees every year.
He sees you when you’re sleeping. You know those sleep and fitness apps? The Fitbit tracker that was in your stocking last year? Well, we need to be aware of what these apps reveal about us. “…fitness bands that help measure your sleep patterns can also reveal other data that most people do not want to reveal (i.e., how often they have intercourse),” Professor Andrew Boyd of the University of Illinois at Chicago reminds us. Even if you remove the band, the very fact you have removed it or shut it off can be revealing.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia
While the tools are great for tracking health and fitness, they reveal a lot to Santa about what we are and are not doing. “We need to determine what is and what is not an appropriate use of mobile and human tracking within wearable devices and fitness data,” Boyd points out. With all of this tracking, it’s going to be much harder to hide how naughty or nice you’ve been all year.
Our driving habits. Not only is our location being mapped, but now car insurance providers want you to plug a small device into your car which will track whether you are a safe driver or not. How will it do that? The devices can monitor speeding, braking, cornering speed, and the time of day your car is driven, and how far.
This is called telematics or UBI (usage based insurance) One of the oldest companies, Octo Telematics, has been around since 2002. Adding a device to your vehicle may not be necessary soon, as an app could be added to your phone, which is already constantly transmitting data, like your location as mentioned above.
Rest assured the insurance companies will be sharing this data with the North Pole. After all, they wouldn’t want to end up on the naughty list. So even whether you are a naughty or nice driver will become a part of your permanent record.
Mapping the big guy on the longest trip of the year can be fun. More and more though, he’s able to watch what we are doing throughout the year, and add it to his own map.
So this year, I’m turning the tables. Instead of cookies, I’m leaving Mr. Clause a smart phone, a fitness tracker, and a telematic device. I’ll build my own map, and we’ll see who’s on the naughty list next year.
Happy Holidays, GIS Users. May your New Year be filled with new technology and fascinating projects.
Troy Lambert is a freelance writer, editor, and non-profit consultant by day, and a suspense thriller author by night. He learned about the power of GIS while working as a researcher at a museum, and is always looking for ways to apply this technology and big data in new and innovative ways. Troy is an avid cyclist, skier, and hiker. He lives, works, and plays in Boise, Idaho. His work can be found at troylambertwrites.com, and you can connect with him on Twitter @tlambertwrites.
See Also: The History of NORAD Santa… Believe!