Location on the Blockchain Sounds Good, but May Be a Flawed Model: The Atlantic

“Some things just don’t want to be ‘verified’” said professor Shannon Mattern of The New School in New York, writing for The Atlantic on the subject of blockchain-powered location mapping.

The prominent US paper wrote on some upcoming decentralized mapping platforms currently in development, and considered both their attractions and potential hazards. Mattern explained how micro-incentivised location mapping platforms like FOAM and XYO seek to initially utilize, and then replace unencrypted GPS, which the projects see as vulnerable to a number of threats such as “fraud, spoofing, jamming, and cyberattack.”

Under these schemes, users will have to invest in tokens to gain access to the mapping system, but could then contribute location data that other users could verify, which the system would then reward - this is the Proof-of-Location (PoL) in a nutshell. One of the projects, FOAM, hopes to achieve a coordinating mapping system with the use of low-power wide-area networks, triangulating locations from networks of radio beacons.

Although these ecosystems are billed as only dealing with objective information - meaning users’ opinions regarding locations should not matter, but rather only the fact of location data being accurate - it is clear that Mattern is suspicious that the micro-economy which incentivizes a map built by users might not be completely harmless.

Careless Incentives For Mapping?

In the author’s view, certain places could become privileged over others by mappers, by virtue of being better mapped. The Atlantic proposes that a kind of “crypto-real-estate speculation” could by spun out from the PoL incentive set, perhaps causing “gentrification and displacement” as a result of early location mappers wanting to reap the rewards of self-fulfilling prophecies that a location was worth mapping.

She wrote:

Even social-entrepreneurial crypto-cartographers ostensibly committed to the public good could still plot and vote for points in accordance with their privileged [...] perspectives and blind prejudices.

Professor Shannon Mattern

Finally, Mattern proposed that the activity of strangers mapping locations - in this regard sharing an already-studied damage of GPS - has the effect of effacing “folklore, vernacular histories, or habitual experience” and replacing them with careless and sterile coordinates.