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A research note on ethics in the emerging age of u¨berveillance

A research note on ethics in the emerging age of u¨berveillance

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Published by: Nikolaos Kalantzis on Feb 17, 2011
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A research note on ethics in the emerging age of u¨berveillance
M.G. Michael, Sarah Jean Fusco, Katina Michael
School of Information Systems and Technology, Faculty of Informatics, University of Wollongong, P.O. Box U184, Wollongong, NSW 2522, Australia
Available online 26 January 2008
Advanced location-based services (A-LBS) for humancentric tracking and monitoring are now emerging as operators and service pro-viders begin to leverage their existing infrastructure and invest in new technologies, toward increasingly innovative location applicationsolutions. We can now point to humancentric tracking and monitoring services where the person (i.e. subject) has become an active nodein the network. For example, in health applications through the use of embedded technologies such as radio-frequency identification(RFID) or in campus applications through the use of electronic monitoring techniques in the form of global positioning systems(GPS). These technologies, for the greater part, have been introduced into society at large, without the commensurate assessment of whatthey will mean in terms of socio-ethical implications. Of particular concern is the potential for these innovative solutions to be applied ingovernment-to-citizen mandated services, increasing the ability of the state to collect targeted data and conduct covert surveillance onany given individual, described herein as u¨berveillance. This paper aims to define, describe, and interpret the current socio-ethical land-scape of advanced location-based services for humans in order to promote discourse among researchers and practitioners to better directtelecommunications policy.
Crown copyright
2008 Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Location-based services; Radio-frequency identification; Global positioning system; Socio- ethics; u¨berveillance
1. Introduction
Since their inception, location positioning technologieshave significantly improved, in terms of their accuracy,portability and affordability. For the first time we are wit-nessing the diffusion of sophisticated carrier-grade loca-tion-based service (LBS) applications for humancentrictracking and monitoring. The full potential for LBS is onlynow being realised. Commercial LBS applications are cur-rently being used for care, control, and convenience, albeitfor niche markets. For example, humancentric trackingand monitoring devices can be used to enable families totrack and monitor their loved ones, or in the case of doc-tors to remotely supervise their patients’ vital signs. Froma business, government, and emergency sector view,humancentric tracking and monitoring applicationsinclude enterprise collaboration, ePassports, Enhanced911 (E-911), the monitoring of parolees, as well as trackingsystems that can create a breadcrumb of a subject’s move-ments for law enforcement purposes. These currently avail-able LBS solutions coupled with the increasing rate of technological progress and the readiness of society toembrace the new technology, reveal the ubiquitous natureof humancentric LBS. These solutions can be consideredadvanced location-based services (A-LBS), not onlybecause of the technology being utilized but the functional-ity of the given service. Only modest research, however, hasbeen dedicated to establishing the potential threat or risk of these emerging applications upon crucial aspects such asthe privacy encroachment on society.
2. Background
If we are to accept the position of Davis[1], ‘‘technologyhas no conscience of its own.
LBS value chain stakehold-ers involved in the complex innovation process must then
0140-3664/$ - see front matter Crown copyright
2008 Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.doi:10.1016/j.comcom.2008.01.023
Corresponding author. Tel.: +61 242213937; fax: +61 242214045.
E-mail addresses:
mgm@uow.edu.au(M.G. Michael),sjf462@uow.edu.au(S.J. Fusco),katina@uow.edu.au(K. Michael).
 Available online at www.sciencedirect.com
Computer Communications 31 (2008) 1192–1199
equip themselves with the knowledge and tools to under-stand the current and potential socio-ethical implications.What is required is a technological assessment, which isthe process by which we ‘‘extend a voice questioning thechaotic progression of technology without analysis
[1].It is one thing to invent, to create, to develop, and anotherthing altogether to see a value or positive contribution toour lives through the adoption of a given technology.For the present, the all critical component of context inLBS innovation has been largely ignored. For instance,E-911 LBS pinpointing services helping to save lives duringemergency response have not been conceptualised any dif-ferently to the ‘on-demand’ trailing of minors by parents orguardians. Whilst some discussion of the socio-ethicalimplications of humancentric tracking and monitoringhas begun, it is quite clearly in its infancy.The purpose of this paper is to provide a view of the cur-rent socio-ethical landscape of location-based services forhumancentric tracking and monitoring. This is achievedby performing a content analysis of the current academicliterature in the related area. By reviewing the landscapewe are able to first understand the currently explored socialand ethical dimensions; and second, to reveal whether thereis a gap in the existing technological assessment. Under-standing the socio-ethical implications is critically impor-tant to the long-term development and sustainability of A-LBS. It will facilitate and guide the formation of policyand legislation which will regulate the use of the technologyso that it can benefit and contribute to society, withoutunnecessarily complicating lives and infringing upon theindividual’s rights and freedoms.
 2.1. Definitions
There are five terms that need to be defined in the con-text of this paper before we are able to progress: (i) human-centric LBS technology, (ii) humancentric tracking, (iii)humancentric monitoring, (iv) ethics, and (v) socio-ethics.
Humancentric LBS technology
is any technology that canbe utilized to determine remotely the position of a person.Included in this definition are location-based technologiesthat are implantable, wearable, and luggable. For example,an implantable RFID chip, a wearable active smart cardbadge, or a portable personal digital assistant with anonboard GPS receiver is considered humancentric LBS.Once a consumer or member of society subscribes them-selves to a location service or is mandated to use one, thelocation technology allows for the tracking of the human,to a varying degree of detail, dependent on the limitationsof the device they are carrying and the provisioned networkinfrastructure supporting the service.
Humancentric tracking 
is therefore the act of followingsomeone or something, in order to find that individualand to understand their pattern of movement over a periodof time, or note their course for a particular purpose.Tracking and monitoring although often used synony-mously in the literature are different.
Humancentric moni-toring 
is the discrete observation or the continuous realtime observation of a subject, examining, inspecting orscrutinizing their progress or their given state over a periodof time for the purposes of systematic review and revision.Tracking can therefore be considered voluntary andapproximate with the purpose to locate an individual at agiven time (e.g. Buddy-Finder service), while monitoringcan be considered something which is enforced, constantand precise (e.g. parolee electronic monitoring). Trackingis about knowing a person’s particular course, whereasmonitoring is about alerting a system or person that some-thing is wrong or someone is off course or outside a givenset of parameters. Monitoring generally implies tracking bydefault and is more about noting exceptions, while trackingis about providing a chronicle of movement.Choice, consent, the ability to opt-in or opt-out of alocation-based service are paramount in the product/pro-cess development discussion, despite the fact that muchhas yet to be recorded on these important matters. A greatdeal of the debate which is yet to happen will revolvearound ethics.
can be defined as the moral principlesthat govern a person’s behavior or conduct in a giveninstance, activity or scenario. It then follows that
are the moral principles which govern a particular soci-ety at large.
3. Qualitative content analysis
This study used a content analysis methodology todevelop a view of the current socio-ethical implications of humancentric LBS. A qualitative content analysis can bedefined as an objective and systematic technique of makinginferences from data[2]. By performing a qualitative con-tent analysis on the academic articles in this area of study,concepts and interrelationships are revealed at a theoreticallevel providing a view of the landscape of socio-ethicalimplications of humancentric LBS. The three stages of thiscontent analysis included: (i) the design, (ii) implementa-tion, and (iii) reporting.
3.1. Design
The collection of data involved defining a search strat-egy and outlined the constraints on the data to be collected.The search method established had two tiers. Firstly, theterms ‘‘location-based services
, ‘‘radio-frequency identifi-cation
, and ‘‘global positioning system
were searched,and secondly the results were refined to identify articleswhich contained the word ‘‘ethics
. This method was cho-sen to be inclusive of literature, so that as many relevantand related articles on ‘‘LBS and ethics
would be includedin the sample.The guide for collecting articles was as follows. First, theliterature search was limited to the following online dat-abases: ACM Digital Library, Cambridge Journals Online,Compendex, Thompson Computer Datagae, ExpandedAcademic ASAP, IEEE Xplorer, Springerlink, Proquest
M.G. Michael et al./Computer Communications 31 (2008) 1192–1199
5000, Proquest Computing, Science Direct, Synergy, Tay-lor and Francis, Web of Knowledge. The study includedelectronic articles available as of January 2007. Second,the articles retained had to be academic research, review,case or application-based papers. The focus was on usingonly substantive academic research so emotive tabloid-typemedia articles were not included in the search process.Finally, only electronically formatted articles were retainedfor the purposes of content processing using the
content analysis application[3].The analytic technique chosen utilizes contingency anal-ysis, which ‘‘aims to infer the network of sources associa-tions from the pattern of co-occurrences of symbolicimages
[2]. Leximancer performs this task and producesconcept maps and ranked lists which can then be used toidentify the prominent concepts enunciated by the litera-ture helping to understand the interrelationships betweenthem. A high level of reliability and validity is providedby using Leximancer to perform the content analysis. Lex-imancer, being software, does not suffer from the humancondition of exhaustion and offers a high level of codingstability through ‘‘the automated and deterministicmachine learning phase [which is]
. . .
highly consistent nomatter how many times a corpus is processed and repro-cessed by the application
[4]. Its major strength is repro-ducibility, and an enhanced improved reliability. Thesoftware program also helps to address the problem of identification and hence improves validity[5].
3.2. Implement
The number of relevant academic articles found in theabove-mentioned online databases was 62. The total num-ber of articles pertaining specifically to ethics and human-centric tracking and monitoring were only 28. In order toensure that the corpus of articles was representative of the current literature the reference list of each article wasexhaustively examined. As a result, only seven additionalarticles were added to the overall count, taking the totalnumber of articles analyzed to 35. The data was then mod-ified where required, ready for computerized content anal-ysis. Leximancer was thus used to analyze the content of the articles. The following terms were merged in Leximanc-er to avoid redundancy of concepts: LBS included ‘‘LBS
and ‘‘location-based service
; RFID included ‘‘RFID
and ‘‘radio-frequency identification
; GPS included ‘‘GPS
and ‘‘Global Positioning System
; Law included ‘‘Legisla-tion
, ‘‘Law
and ‘‘Legal
3.3. Report
Leximancer produces the results of the qualitative con-tent analysis with a graphical concept map and a tabularlist of ranked concepts. Before observing and interpretingthe results produced from the content analysis it is impor-tant to note the size of the corpus of articles analyzed. Onlya small number of articles retrieved, reveals the limitedamount of academic engagement in this area. Plainly,LBS and socio-ethical issues are under explored. The studycan therefore only be granted research note status, basedon the preliminary evidence available to the researchers.We thus present an emerging LBS socio-ethical framework.Fig. 1shows the study’s concept map with ‘‘people
, and ‘‘technology
being the focal points inthe current literature. Leximancer’s ranked concept listfor the study included: technology, information, privacy,location, RFID, people, system, devices, applications,tracking, tags, LBS, data, individual, services, security,monitoring, GPS, time, case, control, issues, should, per-sonal, potential, trust, access, future, identification, pro-vide, available, number, user, work, current, mobile,surveillance, research, government, reader, children, pub-lic, chip, social, law, network, consumers, include, enforce-ment, society, home, phone, computer. By reviewing theconcept maps and ranked list provided by Leximancer itlogically emerged that concepts fell broadly into three cat-egories: actors, social issues, and technologies (Table 1).Other significant concepts which are overarching in termsof their applicability to the categories listed include ‘‘law
, ‘‘future
, and ‘‘research
, indicating theunderlying need for a socio-ethical framework to be devel-oped and utilized for A-LBS development.
4. Findings
The content analysis results reveal the dominant con-cepts emerging from the academic research on the socio-ethical implications of humancentric LBS. The analysisalso shows the relationship between these different con-cepts. By analyzing these concepts and their associationsa socio-ethical framework has been developed. The contentanalysis reveals that the literature identifies relationshipsbetween actors in society in terms of ‘‘privacy
, ‘‘security
Fig. 1. The socio-ethical concept map of location-based services.1194
M.G. Michael et al./Computer Communications 31 (2008) 1192–1199

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