[Osmf-talk] Paid Mapping / WikiPR like issues in OSM?

Frederik Ramm frederik at remote.org
Wed Nov 27 14:54:02 UTC 2013


   some of you may have read the recent brouhaha about a PR firm
offering to edit Wikpedia to brush up their client's images or advertise
their products.

Wikimedia Foundation sent them a cease and desist letter

The main problem, from Wikipedia's point of view, is not so much that
someone receives money for editing Wikipedia, but that

* content added by the PR firm lacked neutrality and verifiability;
* there were undisclosed conflicts of interest
* a ton of sock puppet accounts had been created by the PR firm.

Hundreds, likely thousands, of person-hours have been spent by the
Wikipedia community to analyse the problem.

At OpenStreetMap, we haven't yet had such problems or at least we aren't
aware of them. There have been a couple of "SEO" spammers, and a couple
of people who too prominently added their own business name, but that's
about all. I know of a couple self-employed people who offer to "add
your place to OpenStreetMap" but I don't have reason to believe that
anything improper is going on there.

Basically, our own rules of verifiablity mean that there's not so much
where a commercial PR firm could put a "spin" on things and thereby
damage our project or reputation. You might say: as long as what they
add is correct, why bother?

I think it is perhaps not as easy as that, and it is a matter worth
discussing and thinking about.

One of the reasons for OSM's success is the strong community of people
who care for the data. That's why we have strict rules on imports - we
can't allow an area being plastered with data that would swamp and
discourage the mapping community, *even* *if* the data itself is of high

The same caveat might apply to paid editing. Someone who adds data not
because they're passionate but because they're paid, will be lost to us
immediately when their boss decides that attention should be shifted
elsewhere. In paid mapping, it is totally conceivable that some
individual maps from 9 to 5 for a month, and then never again. It is
totally conceivable that that individual isn't at all interested in OSM
or the data, and that they simply do what they're told. It is totally
conceivable that, when asked a few months later, that person will reply
"uh, I don't quite remember, it was just a job I was doing".

Is that a problem, or could it become one?

Also, we're giving mappers a huge amount of freedom in tagging and in
deciding what they map. We might shrug if we see that someone
meticuously draws every single tree in their garden, or every patch of
grass, but we'll not usually do something about it and leave the quirky
individual their fun. After all, we want to support "unexpected uses".
If the same were to be done by an organisation with lots of resources,
and we would have to fear that they would neatly "paint" every single
garden of the properties they manage or so, would we still say "ah, give
the individual some leeway in how they contribute to OSM"? Or would we,
when faced with an organisation making cold business decisions rather
than quirky hobbyist decisions, request that they adhere to other standards?

In the Wikipedia case, one of the issues was that the PR company was not
being open about who they were, what they were editing and why, hiding
behind "sock puppet" accounts. In OSM much as in Wikipedia, we don't
normally expect people to reveal their identity, or tell us why they're
mapping something. Is it different when dealing with a corporate entity?
Would we expect to be told which accounts belong to employees and what
their current goal is (e.g. "we have been asked to improve cycleway
mapping in Frankfurt for a client and expect to spend 3-4 person weeks
on that, and the mapping will be done by our team members A, B, and C")?

I'm not offering any answers - just questions right now.


Frederik Ramm  ##  eMail frederik at remote.org  ##  N49°00'09" E008°23'33"

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