GIS Tutorial: Mobile Phone Tracking and You - Working with your own Geographic Footprint

GIS Tutorial: Mobile Phone Tracking and You - Working with your own Geographic Footprint

April 22, 2014

First, watch this short one-minute video on geographic footprints below.

Next, and if you have time, you can watch the full presentation that goes much more in-depth into these issues ( ~35 min).

This GIS tutorial walks through how to get location data from your cell phone as represented in Google Maps into ArcMap. This tutorial covers the basics of using the KML to Layer tool in the ArcToolBox and an alternate way to load kml data back into ArcMap.

Watch the video first, then download the file below and try to answer the related questions.

I’ve included a “cleaned” version of the KML file below if you’d like to try and pull the file into ArcGIS yourself. If you do, see if you can figure out the following:

  1. Where I stayed on 08/17/2013
  2. What I did during the day
  3. Where I went in the evening

The timestamps will be helpful in making an educated guess. Remember, the data you’re working with hasn’t been cleaned so there will be errors in the file. When working with the data, think a bit about what this data can tell someone when combined in aggregate over a period of time (even just a week’s worth of data can be very informative as to a person’s behavioral patterns). From a public health perspective, the monitoring of such information can introduce significant ethical issues for the researcher. For instance, a public health official might be tempted to use such a data collection scheme to try and determine segments of the population most likely to visit clinic locations, but what if that same information was used to target specific populations (say, persons who all happen to visit a place of worship?) Public health officials are more likely to be very sensitive to such issues, but others may not.

If you are a public health practitioner (or are in school to become one), consider it part of your duty to inform others as to the challenges that location-based information can introduce to both the research and the general public.

A copy of the cleaned CSV file used in the tutorial can be found here:

download csv

For more on this topic, see:

Presentation on similar topic:

“Quantifying Privacy: A Week of Location Data May be ‘Unreasonable Search’” - New York Times