Facebook: Hands Off Our Map

Posted by woodpeck on 5 December 2019 in English (English).

Dear Facebook,

you started out as a harmless geek’s wet dream, a site for male college students to rate how sexy they found the women studying with them. You’ve grown up since then, and are now motivated not by adolescent lust but corporate greed. You’ve managed to make headlines as the enabler of genocide[1], the manipulator of elections[2], and posing an unprecedented danger to human rights[3] – among the lesser counts of privacy violation, publishing hate speech, and outright lying to politicians, the press and the public.

Now I cannot know if all this is down to sheer recklessness or just incompetence. For all I know there might be thousands of honest, upright, well-meaning people working for you, all blameless, all just doing their job, and perhaps it is just “the circumstances”, or “a few bad apples”, or “unfortunate events” that lead to all the pain and suffering that Facebook is responsible for.

But I have to judge you as one giant organism. I cannot separate the good from the bad. Facebook is one big black box and it touches things and they turn to ashes.

I don’t want OSM to turn to ashes. So please, Facebook, stop touching OSM. You’ve already done a lot of damage in your bumbling and lying first encounters with us, where you imported tons of computer-generated data and then claimed to know nothing about it. We know you’ve set a couple of untrained college kids to do this[4], given them free rein to disrupt OSM on your payroll. You’ve now switched to using individuals as conduit for your contributions through your “Map with AI” efforts, never giving the wider OSM community a chance to vet this dangerous approach, but nonetheless publicly claiming you were doing this “with OpenStreetMap”. You are not: you are doing this to OpenStreetMap, and you don’t care what it does to our project.

On top of all this, now you’re sending us one of your employees to stand for election to the OSMF board, and he doesn’t even pretend to separate OSMF’s from Facebook’s goals, saying: “A candidate working in a company like FB and not specifically trying to disconnect OSM involvement from their day job is a potentially weird new thing”[5] – sadly neither blatant power grabs nor an absolute blindness to conflict of interest are weird, or new.

You do not understand OpenStreetMap, and your goals as an organisation are fundamentally different from those of OpenStreetMap. You will destroy it, and all the good people that might be working for you will sheepishly say “but we did have good intentions”. They will say that they couldn’t possibly know OSM would turn to ashes under Facebook’s touch, just as they couldn’t possibly know Facebook would be aiding genocide, manipulate elections, or threaten human rights.

You can have the data, but if you really want this project to have a healthy future, stay out of how we make the data.

a person without a Facebook account.


Comment from migurski on 5 December 2019 at 18:41

Thanks for this feedback, Frederick!

Pure separation of personal, community, and participant goals is not in OSM’s best interests: the map has always had a job to do in the world beyond just existing and commercial use is a part of that. I’d like to see a future more like that of Linux: a healthy, stable organization and a range of diverse participants acting in concert without privileging narrow forms of participation over others. I imagine this is also important to you as an owner of a company similarly reliant on OpenStreetMap data.

You linked to my Talk@ post but I’ll mention it again: I’ve set up a short series of open office hours in a wide range of time zones to answer any community questions that might come up. There are three left: tomorrow, Sunday, and Tuesday. So far I’ve had one very excellent and wide-ranging conversation about communication venues in OSM which reminded me that exists as an interesting potential place for the OSMF board to make itself available for community feedback and conversation. Since you’re still a prominent member of the board, would you be open to using some of your remaining time to make communications channels between leadership and the community more explicit?

Comment from mikelmaron on 5 December 2019 at 18:55

Frederik, curious about this statement in general:

“I have to judge you as one giant organism. I cannot separate the good from the bad”

With other entities, I’ve found the exact opposite to be the case. For instance, the US federal government is unquestionably headed by recklessness and incompetence. But I still work fruitfully together with USAID (the US government international aid agency) mapping folks. How is Facebook different? Or am I a compromised implicit Trump supporter now?

Also do you really believe that if Facebook is involved in OSM that they’ll destroy OSM? I don’t see evidence of that to be honest. I’ve found a lot of genuine excitement widely in OSM about

Or is it that you think Facebook’s approach is dangerous because the technology they’re building in will be adapted to target bombs?

Comment from doublah on 5 December 2019 at 19:55

I don’t have a Facebook account, and I don’t like Facebook too much as a monolithic all-seeing corporation, but for OpenStreetMap, they haven’t really done anything out of malice or with bad intentions, and honestly with their recent MapWithAI and RapiD projects, I see only good coming out of their interest in improving OpenStreetMap.

The OSM ‘Old Guard’ have a long and impressive history of gatekeeping OpenStreetMap and preventing improvements out of scaremongering of future technologies (see any time someone brings up the iD editor, because apparantly consistent tagging is scandalous), but concerns about ML being inaccurate or potentially ruining the map are completely disregardable when (as with their current implementation in RapiD) they require human input and verification.

I truly believe most people in the OpenStreetMap community have good intentions, including most corporate mappers, and if corporations’ goals of better maps align with our own, co-operation is only a good thing. We shouldn’t scare away powerful allies (atleast in the mapping world, Facebook’s not really anyone’s ally in the privacy world) by gatekeeping whos allowed to contribute to OpenStreetMap.

Comment from maxerickson on 6 December 2019 at 01:42

Should untrained college kids be banned from artisanal mapping also?

(I get that there is an argument about resources and scale, I just think it’s funny to list characteristics common to lots of OSM participants as scandalous corporate malfeasance)

Comment from Baloo Uriza on 6 December 2019 at 05:16

I think there’s a long stretch between the ignorant and minor scale bumbling of a new or student mapper that doesn’t have a proper grip on what they’re doing, and a corporation doing the same thing at a large scale, then running someone to an OSMF position.

No offense to migurski on this, and his extensive previous work with considerably better behaved corporate entities with interests in OSM. I have a hard time believing that he wouldn’t become a proxy for FB, to the detriment of OSM’s interests and his own personal interests. Especially fresh on the heels of the GlobalLogic debacle and FB’s involvement in severely and possibly irreparably harming humanitarian and political processes in entire sovereign countries.

Comment from migurski on 6 December 2019 at 05:58

Hi Baloo, I appreciate your comment here.

You raise an excellent point, which ultimately comes down to trust and predictability: are commercial interests in opposition to those of OpenStreetMap? I wouldn’t be doing any of this if I didn’t think the two were basically aligned behind the creation and distribution of free geographic data for the world for people to use in creative, productive, or unexpected ways.

Comment from ᚛ᚐᚋᚐᚅᚇᚐ᚜ 🏳️‍🌈 on 6 December 2019 at 06:45

“are commercial interests in opposition to those of OpenStreetMap?” ¹ Are they always opposed? No. Are they always aligned? Oh no! There’s a neo-liberal view that everything good for the economy, is good for everyone. And vice versa, things bad for the economy are also always bad. (e.g. “sexism is bad because it’s bad for the economy”). There are some times when something is good for a company (or GDP), but is a bad and we should choose the thing that hurts shareholder value.

I’d like to a future more like that of Linux: a healthy, stable organization”² Do you mean the Linux kernel? Cause… healthy?!?! 🤯

“characteristics common to lots of OSM participants as scandalous corporate malfeasance”³ Not many OSM participants invading millions of people’s privacy.

Comment from jharpster on 6 December 2019 at 10:25

Frederik, I’d hardly characterize running for the OSMF board as a ‘power grab’ of any sort. The OSMF has remained largely a powerless, puppet organization and has failed to make forward progress on several fronts including upholding its core mission. Here are a couple of examples from the Mission Statement:

  • Is responsible for a friendly environment for people to participate in OSM
  • Defines a strategic vision
  • Maintains a set of clear project goals, which may be a subset of all possible goals
  • Takes active steps to safeguard project relevance, future and success

OSM would be much better served if its OSMF board members were working to develop new and creative ways to engage the community and promote the project and its future success rather than making baseless acquisitions and promoting dire predictions about the future.

Comment from EditConscript on 6 December 2019 at 12:26

i shall take this opportunity to voice and respond to this thread even if there are veteran mappers who would undervalue what i say as jibberish and incoherent.

as an eager new OSM member without the accolades and achievements of several mappers within this thread , no technical knowledge whatsoever! aside from mastering rapid mouse clicking… i set out to contribute to a space which aligns with my philosophy and ethical beliefs. in such a small timeframe (that had surprised site_admins) i gave energies and precious time into posting in the User Diaries space and map editing space using editor iD ( which probably would switch to JOSM soon ). anyhoo that resulted in conflict and ‘oversight’ UPDATE:matter has been swiftly and promptly resolved…

then started conducting proper search engine and relying on good search engine results brought me up to speed (WIP forever, i hope) with the mapping techniques, blogging conduct, and even politics –ugly! always!

what i gather from life thus far, if you are from a certain perspective, you will bring along with it what you see from that perspective, you are not evil Facebook. neither are people working for Facebook are having ill intent ever! You bring what you know, you apply what you know. Big Data sprawls its reach out with such force and speed that when it tramples and crushes the little folks, they go “oh, i squished ants…. ah well, Moving On”

it’s such a guarantee, with the resources from Big Data, oh my what fine maps there will be indeed ! though from the archives of the Internet their origins come from the “unexpected”, “devs” back then slowly pieced together their knowledge about UGC ( user generated content ) then p2p networks and then ????

whichever ways the election outcome were to unfurl, it has to be one that OSM heads (in which way is decides together) to that is true to how it was back when 2003?! not based on any documents, on the joy that it was formed, all about mapping all about #going outdoors ffs finding the time to be part of cartography that the maps themselves provide the sense of security and calm to travel to new lands ! reacting to disasters ( shoutout HOTOSM ), i am really thrilled to find active mappers community in India! ah well..

i am sure in the Future, (guys ever stop to wonder the Germans language CAPITALIZE the first letter future?? ) when data pods are implemented and squabbling devs had enough, they could just take their data as Easy and light hearted as they gave it, with love and outmost attention, i promise you nothing of this sort will ever happen. well, 83.56% sure about that!

alright to sum it up sorta: this is a promotion of Peace, danke

an individual who had clicked the delete Facebook account but will never know if their personal data is erased…

Comment from RobJN on 6 December 2019 at 20:09

At best I do not see how this post is in anyway useful, at worst this comes across as a desperate attempt to cling on to something (power? Influence?)

It would be good if board members remembered that OpenStreetMap is the project that creates and distributes free geographic data for the world. If you genuinely care about this aim then the new board members should do as much as they possibly can to guide as many people and and as many companies through the process of successfully contributing good quality data. That is the best way to achieve our aim of distributing free geographic data for the world.

Comment from LivingWithDragons on 8 December 2019 at 17:18

The two guys who spoke at State of the Map in Heidelberg were friendly and seemed really good for the project, interested in getting things right (like attribution).

However they are part of a larger machine, and they blamed issues on lack of understanding of OSM by other parts in the organisation that are far than them. I.e. a new feature gets added, uses a map, doesn’t know attribution has to be added if it’s OSM, then the complaint has to reach the correct person who will respond and fix it. The chap I spoke to after his talk (more time in the break) was keen to know where they were still lacking attribution.

It’s very bad that Facebook didn’t anticipate a question about attribution. It probably would have been good for them to have someone present that could be pointed out and hold a discussion on during the break (it was not really connected to the talk). Of course they could also release a statement on how they are wanting to do better, and they could actually be better.

Jubal Harpster says being on the OSMF board doesn’t have real power, but that doesn’t stop the intention being to make a power grab (it at least feels like that reading some comments).

Comment from woodpeck on 17 January 2020 at 21:35

Nancy Pelosi (current speaker of the democratic-led House of Representatives of the US government) has this to say about Facebook:

Comment from mikelmaron on 17 January 2020 at 22:25

Haha I heard that statement on the radio this morning and thought “Frederik would like this”.

Anyway I asked some unanswered questions above about whether looking at big companies as single entities with a totally aligned approach or more appropriate as a bundle of interests like governments themselves.

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