You Went Where in Amsterdam?


Amsterdam, the capital city of the Netherlands, is famous for its picturesque canals and its laid-back, live-and-let-live attitude. It also served as a canvas for one of the world’s first large-scale artistic application of global positioning system (GPS) mapping: the Amsterdam RealTime project.

Nearly 15 years ago, Dutch artist Esther Polak and the Amsterdam City Archive Waag Society invited Amsterdammers to carry around a GPS tracer unit for two months. The tracking revealed various versions of the map of Amsterdam—a person riding a bicycle around the city produced completely different maps of the city, compared to someone walking around. Each map reflected the particular Amsterdammer’s lifestyle: where they live, work, eat and play.

The project was conducted in 2002—before the proliferation of connected mobile devices that transformed GPS tracking from an artistic exhibition to a fact of daily life. 

Between 2000 and 2011, the number of mobile phone users jumped from 500 million to 1.5 billion in developed nations and from 250 to 4.5 billion in developing nations. Following the introduction of the first iPhone in 2007, many mobile applications required users to allow the phone and the app to track their location. Now, in 2016, mobile phones can reveal a lot more about users than just physical locations—they can reveal health information, financial information, shopping history and pretty much anything that is done through the phone.

Even games are becoming geolocation-centric. Pokemon Go is an immensely popular mobile game that allows players to capture, battle and train virtual Pokemon that appear on their mobile device screens through augmented reality—an apparent financial boon to Nintendo. Unfortunately, some people have abused the lay of the virtual land to anticipate people’s movements, set traps and rob them in real life, according to Washington Post.

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