More on the mobile front: “Gigwalk pays iPhone users to snap photos, verify addresses and other odd jobs.” Says the co-founder:
People from other companies would always complain about how hard and expensive and time consuming it is to collect localized data … it just seemed like it made so much sense that people are out there and have smartphones and they can get the local data for you. It seemed like a real big opportunity here.
The “real big opportunity” is, of course, to monetize: businesses pay Gigwalk for data about the urban landscape, which Gigwalk in turn pays users - people with iPhones in their pockets - to collect. The company reportedly has raised about $1.7 million and is operating in seven U.S. metro areas.
That “local intelligence” has value is not new. In the Bay Area, I have watched with interest The Bold Italic, which celebrates such intelligence gathering to a distinctly artistic tune. News startup The Bay Citizen dubs some of its coverage “local intelligence” (one of the latest: “Be Love Farm, Vacaville”).
But this app is about data - specialized data, cold, hard and specific, with a price tag. To me, it represents the larger changes underfoot in the way we experience cities in a digital age. The makers expect that these data are valuable - an expectation that, I think, drives concerns elsewhere about mobile privacy. Also nagging is the question of whether experiencing the city while “resist[ing] the urge to hang out with your cellphone” - through “unfettered eyes,” in Taylor McAdam’s words - will ever be as rich again.
- Elizabeth Titus
Photo: Screenshot via gigwalk.com
The stir this week over mobile devices’ tracking and storing users’ locations has raised a bunch of consumer-privacy concerns, but in the spirit of The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal regarding the “weird privacy snafu,” we might as well learn from it. Herein: a recap, a map and some queries for the urban-minded among us.
If you’re catching up, here’s my best attempt at a quick synopsis:
I mapped my own data using the researchers’ app. Here’s a snapshot of my Bay Area movements since September:
The privacy concerns are valid: anyone with access to my phone or computer could get this data, the researchers point out. But we can still ask other types of questions about our newfound troves of spatial information — and as I overheard someone saying today, our attitudes about all this may well evolve.
One question this raises for me is: if such rich visualizations of data become widely available to us someday, how will it affect us as consumers? Voters? Admittedly, my map above — both simple and personal — got me thinking about security even more than, say, the Wall Street Journal’s “What They Know” series on digital privacy, which paints a much fuller picture of the issue. Is data visualization — especially when consumers and voters can personally connect to it — on its way toward focusing wider audiences on issues important to them?
(I say “wider” because in my own field, journalism, in the so-called “digital humanities,” and surely elsewhere, data visualization already finds itself a catchphrase. A couple great examples I’ve gotten to see up close are The Texas Tribune, where I interned last summer, and in the course “Tooling Up for the Digital Humanities,” which I’m taking this quarter.)
Second: let’s assume the massive trove of personal data we’re accumulating in the digital age can someday inform scholarly research. What, as urbanists, would we use it for? Could we learn more, or more easily, about trends in suburban commuting? Activity patterns in national parks? Urbanization in the developing world?
Leave your thoughts in the comment section.
- Elizabeth Titus