The Ethics of Geospatial Technology

AGS launches EthicalGEO initiative, invites community to join conversation via video


The American Geographical Society (AGS) is launching a worldwide conversation called EthicalGEO, which focuses on the ethics of geospatial technologies. This new initiative, sponsored by Omidyar Network, is intended to create a dialogue that shines light on ethical challenges and opportunities presented by geospatial technologies and data sources.

“The world of geospatial is just exploding,” said AGS CEO John Konarski. “Virtually every week there is a new development, so ethical issues are bound to arise, and it makes sense that we wanted to start this conversation.”

The EthicalGEO initiative invites thinkers, innovators, entrepreneurs, policy-makers, practitioners, students, and everyday citizens to submit their ideas regarding ethical issues in geospatial technology via a three-minute video.

“This is all in the very beginning stages,” Konarski said, adding that college and graduate students as well as all deep thinkers on ethical issues are encouraged to participate.

The EthicalGEO website will begin accepting submissions Aug. 1. In addition to generating a global conversation and raising awareness of geospatial ethics, seven individuals who submit videos will be selected to participate in the first class of AGS EthicalGEO Fellows. Each individual will receive a one-year, $7,500 award to advance and amplify their ideas.

“Many people have observations about the ethical implications of the geospatial innovations reshaping our daily lives,” the site FAQs state. “Fewer people have novel ideas about how our society might adapt, innovate, and evolve to harness the power of geospatial data and technology while mitigating its ethical challenges. 

Topics should relate to a geospatial innovation that has changed the ethical landscape of everyday life, such as GPS, space-based remote sensing, drones, indoor wayfinding, augmented and virtual reality, the Internet of Things, AI and deep learning, geocoded public records data, and more.

“Geospatial technologies continue to be an invaluable force for good, yet there is a growing need to address the unintended consequences that can arise with such technological innovation,” said Peter Rabley, venture partner at Omidyar Network, via a press release. “We are excited to support the launch of EthicalGEO, which will help us better understand how we might safeguard against potential downsides while optimizing the positive impact geospatial technologies can have on advancing solutions to some of humanity’s most pressing issues, from a lack of property rights, climate change, and global development.”

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