At the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, we promote open and accessible data. What happens, though, when open data inadvertently brings attention to the location of something that could cause harm to the people in that area?
At the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, we promote open and accessible data. What happens, though, when open data inadvertently brings attention to the location of something that could cause harm to the people in that area? Hospitals in war zones, minority places of worship, and illegal but life-sustaining medical services are among the types of sensitive information that, depending on the context, could have real consequences for people on the ground.
We often get asked about the ethics of mapping in conflict or other sensitive contexts, and how to balance filling data gaps with possible risks. As an agency both implementing and supporting mapping activities that create open, freely available spatial data with few constraints on use, it is responsible to understand, assess, mitigate, and protect against risk and harm arising from activities we undertake or support.
Our Data Protection Framework lays out how stakeholders in data activities can approach these responsibilities. It represents HOT’s commitment to responsible, ethical practices to protect people from harm. Stakeholders include:
- HOT staff,
- And (OSM) communities engaging in data collection activities funded by HOT or other donors.
HOT’s approach to ethical data is informed by the Data Principles of “Open and accessible,” “Useful and usable data,” “Inclusive and representative,” and “Ethical data and protection.”
The word “Protection” is used here in a way similar to its common usage in the humanitarian field, which encompasses two basic definitions:
- Protect the lives, livelihoods, safety, health, and dignity of affected people, and
- Ensure that our own actions do not lead to or perpetuate discrimination, abuse, neglect, or violence.
Our Protection Framework has two components:
- Protection Policy to detail HOT’s approach to ethical data.
- Data Ethics and Protection Tool to complete ethical data exercise to identify risks and mitigations per data creation project.
As we move forward with our goal of mapping an area that is home to one billion people, we will do so responsibly using this framework. Any questions or comments can be sent to email@example.com.