In the developed world, geolocation technology has its upsides and its downsides. On the one hand, we can now follow our progress as we walk from A to B without getting lost, and find the nearest two-for-one pizza deal in the process. In the future, says Jane Frost of the Market Research Society, governments will use such data “to understand how people interact with services such as public transport and health, and to monitor criminals and detect and prevent fraud”. On the other, companies will aggressively mine geolocation data to target customers with goods and services according to their habits and location.
In the developing world, and in fragile and conflict states, though, the technology is being put to less controversial use. A project in Nigeria for the UK Department for International Development, for example, which is funding a programme to help reduce child and mother mortality in childbirth by encouraging more mothers to give birth in clinics, has successfully combined GPS data collected during interviews with satellite imagery to clearly show the effect of distance on mortality.