Ethics of VGI: the examples of OSM and Wikimapia

Authors: Christian Bittner*, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Tim Elrick*, McGill University
Topics: Geographic Information Science and Systems, Cartography, Political Geography
Keywords: VGI, critical data studies, Wikimapia, OpenStreetMap, critical cartography, ethics
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 3:20 PM / 5:00 PM
Room: Balcony N, Marriott, River Tower Elevators, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


OpenStreetMap (OSM) and Wikimapia are not only two of the biggest and best-known volunteered geographic information (VGI) projects; they also follow a quite transparent and open path in their participation rules and mapping procedures. OSM’s epistemological stance can be described as a ‘ground-truth’ logic: all physical entities you can see on site are suitable to be added to the geo-database of OSM. Wikimapia, on the other hand, follows the rather qualitative agenda to describe the world as a mosaic of unique polygonal places enriched with texts, photos or comments. Both approaches however raise a number of ethical questions. In the case of OSM, mappers have debated how (if at all) to map private property, abortion clinics , data centres or bird nesting sites. Similar discussions took place on Wikimapia. Furthermore, Wikimapia users have repeatedly complained about acts of discrimination, stalking, insults or harassment on the platform. This paper looks into different ethical aspects of mapping by analysing the discussions in the communities of OSM and Wikimapia and linking them back to more general theories on morals and ethics.

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