Google Helps To Use Big Data For Global Surveillance — And That's Good
from the fishy-business dept
Techdirt writes plenty about the dangers of surveillance, and how big data is not the solution to everything, despite what PR companies would have us believe. Putting the two together is usually a recipe for very bad things, but not always. Global Fishing Watch, a new project involving Google, the environmental mapping group SkyTruth, and the conservation organization Oceana, shows how they can be used responsibly to tackle serious global problems that were hitherto intractable:
Global Fishing Watch is the product of a technology partnership between SkyTruth, Oceana, and Google that is designed to show all of the trackable fishing activity in the ocean. This interactive web tool — currently in prototype stage — is being built to enable anyone to visualize the global fishing fleet in space and time. Global Fishing Watch will reveal the intensity of fishing effort around the world, one of the stressors contributing to the precipitous decline of our fisheries.
The system works by analyzing data from the Automatic Identification System (AIS) network, which broadcasts a ship’s location. Although AIS was primarily designed as a safety mechanism to avoid collisions at sea, information about the vessel’s behavior can be derived by analyzing AIS data for the identity, speed and direction of broadcasting vessels. Global Fishing Watch uses that analysis to remove all the cargo ships and other non-fishing vessel activity. A lot of data is involved:
Global Fishing Watch started with 3.7 billion data points, more than a terabyte of data from two years of satellite collection, covering the movements of 111,374 vessels during 2012 and 2013. We ran a behavioral classification model that we developed across this data set to identify when and where fishing behavior occurred. The prototype visualization contains 300 million AIS data points covering over 25,000 unique vessels. For the initial fishing activity map, the data is limited to 35 million detections from 3,125 vessels that we were able to independently verify were fishing vessels. Global Fishing Watch then displays fishing effort in terms of the number of hours each vessel spent engaged in fishing behavior, and puts it all on a map that anyone with a web browser will be able to explore.
That openness is a crucial aspect of the project:
Global Fishing Watch will be available to the public, enabling anyone with an internet connection to monitor when and where commercial fishing is happening around the globe. Citizens can use the tool to see for themselves whether their fisheries are being effectively managed. Seafood suppliers can keep tabs on the boats they buy fish from. Media and the public can act as watchdogs to improve the sustainable management of global fisheries. Fisherman can show that they are obeying the law and doing their part. Researchers will have access to a multi-year record of all trackable fishing activity.
That’s pretty much a win for everyone. Nations gain better control over their territorial waters and the resources they contain. It will be easier for food suppliers, journalists and the public to track which ships are fishing legally and sustainably. That will make it easier to identify and penalize those that aren’t — and reward those that do. Better control of illegal fishing should mean that quotas are adhered to, allowing fishing to stocks to recover. Detailed record-keeping will improve the science behind those quotas, making them more realistic and thus sustainable in the long term. In other words, Global Fishing Watch is an example of surveillance and big data analysis that even fish can love.