Geo-Ethics Symposium

14 March 2016 University of Twente, Vrijhof Building Amphitheater


Geo-ethics has tradition in geo-information science. In 1991, Brian Harley was in the vanguard of scholars challenging mapmakers to develop an agenda for ethical mapping. Harley foregrounded three concepts—the agency, the interests and the discourse of the mapmaker. Maps are powerful when the agency and interests of the mapmaker escape notice. Only then the world brought into being by the map can be taken for the world. Ever since, geospatial scientists who followed Harley’s call have viewed maps as authoritative resources that work as instruments in social systems, and as such do not only represent the world, but through their use in society they reinforce the power of the mapmaker.

Nowadays, in the age of big data, a commitment to geo-ethics has new urgency. Geo-located big data is data about the territory, things, people and their relations. Big data are sourced from mobile phones, surveillance cameras, drones, satellites, street views, corporate and government databases. Ephemera from our everyday life—our location and movement, our tweets, emails, photos and videos, purchases, our every click, misspelled word, and page view—are routinely plucked and ‘datafied’.  In the smart cities of the North, ‘datafication’ captures more and more aspects of urban life at ever finer resolutions and creates tensions between the benefits of data analytics and maintaining trust in government, especially when much of the data are processed by corporations. In the global South, ‘datafication’ increases the agency of big business, but also of NGOs, and creates significant power shifts in international  development and environmental governance. The agency of big business to collect, analyze and monetize global data flows is growing. So is the agency of the state to predict and control citizens’ behavior. The debate between techno-optimists and techno-pessimists is fierce. Techno-optimists emphasize the discovery of future patterns in the behavior of people to reduce uncertainty and increase security. Techno-pessimists highlight the loss of individual and group privacy, the loss in autonomy and freedom of expression and the increase in mass surveillance.

The geo-ethics symposium will foreground the malleability of technology and our agency as scientists-cum-citizens in ethically shaping our digital future in the North and the global South. We will explore cutting-edge perspectives from philosophy of technology, computer science and urban & environmental governance by invited experts, both external and in-house. The symposium is a collaboration between the Faculty Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation (ITC) and the Faculty Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences (BMS) of University of Twente. Staff and students with an interest for ethics and geo-technology can join and share their insights with the speakers.

8.45  Welcome coffee
9.15  Setting the scene (Tom Veldkamp – Dean ITC)

9.30-10.00 Philip Brey (BMS-UT) Professional responsibility and the ethics of geo-information

Rolf de By (ITC-UT) As we zoom in, and as we move from ICT to ICU
Linnet Taylor (UvA) Big data: the coming global crisis of governance and practice


Rob Kitchin (University Maynooth, Ireland) The data privacy, data protection and data security implications of smart cities and urban big data
Richard Sliuzas (ITC-UT) From physical to ethical boundaries in slum mapping

Lunch break

Raoni Rajao (UFMG, Brasil) Ethical dilemmas and political struggles around deforestation monitoring in the Amazon
Bob Su (ITC-UT) Whose ethics?

15.30-16.30 – Moderation of the panel and synthesis (Theo Toonen – Dean BMS)
Panel:  Kitchin, de By, Brey, Taylor, Rajao
16.30: Closing and drinks

For more information contact Yola Georgiadou ( or Alfred Stein (

Philip Brey - Professional responsibility and the ethics of geo-information
What are the professional responsibilities of geoscientists and what are the major ethical issues that they need to consider in their work?  In this talk, I will attempt to answer this question, with special attention to ethical issues in geo-information science. In focusing on geo-information science, I will consider ethical issues in the collection, processing, mapping and visual representation of geo-information.  My main point of departure will be that the representation of information is not a neutral process, but may have significant ethical consequences depending on the way in which it is done.  It is part of the professional responsibility of geo-information scientists to be aware of these ethical aspects and to take them into account in their professional activity.

Rolf de By - As we zoom in, and as we move from ICT to ICU
In the STARS project on smallholder farming, we are making use of time series of high resolution satellite images paired with intensive field campaigns that collect farmstead data, farm field data, and so forth. In one of the target areas, we are initiating a farm cadastre. At the same time, the donor wants transparent results, and open access.  In COMMIT/, we have worked on technology that pairs spatial personal traces with social media profiles, and deepens our understanding of user interests, for instance in advisory services for specific commercial applications (e.g. suggesting holiday homes). ICT is changing our world, but how far will we let it?  And when does it become ICU?

Linnet Taylor - Big data: the coming global crisis of governance and practice
We live in the midst of a global data market where personal details about nearly everyone are continually exchanged,  merged and linked, enabling us to be sorted and categorized by businesses, researchers and government, with significant implications for people’s privacy and autonomy. This process represents a global governance challenge comparable to addressing climate change or regulating international financial systems, in that the market is ubiquitous, imperceptible to ordinary citizens, and operates mainly outside the reach of law. How can we place big data and its operations under the auspices of the social contract, and what kinds of changes need to be made to do so? This presentation will offer examples to illustrate the new challenges of data technologies to rights, ethics and governance, and will outline emerging ethical frameworks, infrastructures and configurations of actors that may serve as models for governing this new system.

Rob Kitchin - The data privacy, data protection and data security implications of smart cities and urban big data
Many cities around the world are seeking to become a smart city, using networked, digital technologies to deliver and manage urban services and foster economic development. These smart city technologies generate, process, analyse, store and share vast amount of actionable urban big data relating to individuals and households.  These data capture personal characteristics, location, movements and activities, and can be linked together to produce new derived data and to create predictive profiles. Consequently, the drive to create smart cities raises a number of concerns with respect to data privacy, protection and security. This paper examines such concerns and suggests solutions that enable the rollout of smart city technologies and initiatives, but in a way that is not prejudicial to people’s privacy, actively works to minimize privacy harms, curtail data breaches, and tackle cybersecurity issues.

Richard SliuzasFrom physical to ethical boundaries in slum mapping
Slum maps put the urban poor “on the map” and fill knowledge gaps about their location, extent, living conditions in cities across the globe. Slum mapping has been driven by increased attention given to urban poverty, deprivation and exclusion in development agendas at multiple levels, but also to developments in geo-ICT and the frustration of the urban poor who are often structurally excluded and marginalised. UAVs and  terrestrial photogrammetry add to the arsenal of methods and techniques for slum mapping, but also raise questions that go beyond the mapping of physical boundaries in slums. This presentation reflects on some ethical dilemmas related to slum mapping (privacy, planning, acquisition, use of data/maps, ownership, et cetera) and the importance of confronting such issues explicitly in the education and practice of mapping professionals.

Raoni Rajão - Ethical dilemmas and political struggles around deforestation monitoring in the Amazon
The geo-data infrastructure for deforestation monitoring developed by the Brazilian Institute for Space Research (INPE) is often regarded as the most advanced in the tropics due to its reliability and transparency. This presentation describes the ethical dilemmas that INPE scientists and technicians have been facing in the past decades in order to maintain and expand this geo-data infrastructure. While most studies on geo-ethics emphasize privacy and the citizens’ right to be unknown, the INPE case brings to the fore the public’s right to know the state of the tropical forest.

Bob Su Whose ethics?
In dealing with collaborators and students from different cultural backgrounds, misunderstanding is a common phenomenon. This so called cultural shock is well acknowledged but seldom discussed from an ethical point of view.  Is ethics culturally bonded? Is ethics universal? By way of several real world examples, we will examine the underlying reasons in the different perceptions in ethics. A way forward will be proposed analogous to the European enlightenment movement but with a utopian optimism.

Event starts: Monday 14 March 2016 at 08:45
Event ends: Monday 14 March 2016 at 17:00
Venue: University of Twente campus, Vrijhof building, Amphitheater
City where event takes place: Enschede
Country where event takes place: Netherlands

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