Proof of Concept: What if every civic address in Charlottetown had its own URL?

Try this. Construct a URL as follows:

Replace streetname with the name of your street, substituting an underscore (_) for any spaces and replace streetnumber with your street number. Now visit the URL in your web browser.

For example:

If every address in Charlottetown had its own URL, what could we use this for?


Alan's picture
Alan on December 16, 2003 - 21:56 Permalink

I would certainly challenge privacy rights.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on December 16, 2003 - 21:57 Permalink

It would challenge privacy rights? How?

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on December 16, 2003 - 21:58 Permalink

By the way, the raw data driving this proof of concept is freely available for anyone to download.

Alan's picture
Alan on December 16, 2003 - 22:06 Permalink

If you can associate me either (as an author of web content or in an other way) with my prime physical location as a part of a structure a part of the web, you are creating a public data base about me, are you not? I take it I would not be able to opt out as well as you would want a comprehensive scheme. Each use/creation of data about me without my consent is a new offense to my privacy.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on December 16, 2003 - 22:13 Permalink

I never said anything about “you,” I’m talking about addresses here.

Alan's picture
Alan on December 16, 2003 - 22:16 Permalink

My address is one indicia of me-ness in the world of personal information. Depending on how it is implemented it could offend PIPEDA in a number of ways.

DerekMac's picture
DerekMac on December 16, 2003 - 23:12 Permalink

Something similar existed in paper form since the 1920’s, long before Civic Addressing/911.It was known as Might’s City Directory, later Polk’s City directory, and listed the residents of each street, including the names of each family member. See: for more info.
The books were available in local libraries, or could be purchased for several hundred dollars each.
According to Dave Hunter’s website, the Directory was discontinued by 2001 due to the new Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, which “placed severe limits on any company that would try to gather the information needed for a directory”. I expect that the url schema would run afoul of the same Act. If you were to list addresses, there would be no problem, as they are public information. If, however, you were to attach additional info such as resident’s names, you’d run into trouble. If you were to provide the URL, and let people fill in their own info, after “signing” an online disclaimer, you could probably do it. My own disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, and don’t even play one on TV.

Alan's picture
Alan on December 17, 2003 - 00:25 Permalink

If you look at the regulation under PIPEDA which defines the exception for informaiton publicly available, I don’t see any exception into which the civic address directory could fit, espcially as that database includes information about the residents — those sign-ups and follow ups at the New Glasgow Fire Hall. Further cross-referencing them is a compounding of the issue but only if there is a commerical aspect to it or some other trigger — PIPEDA primarily relates where there is a commerical aspect. But contracting out is likely enough. We Ontario municipalities are filtering all our external work for PIPEDA implications. Cross border quality also triggers it so you may have to exclude “out of province” held land, which is a lot. Even if you get past that you have to then use it only for purposes for which each data subject has provided consents. It’s meant to stop up these kinds of things.

Johnny's picture
Johnny on December 17, 2003 - 00:39 Permalink

Leave it to the lawyer types to smother the spirit of an interesting idea. I’m not quite sure how what amounts to a directory of addresses [not a directory of the inhabitants of said addresses] amounts to some sort of violation of privacy. Wouldn’t this essentially make maps a violation of privacy? I don’t think I’d last 5 minutes in law school.

Alan's picture
Alan on December 17, 2003 - 01:57 Permalink

It all depends on your idea of interesting — here is an good ruling of the Privacy Commissioner on another medium — surveillance cameras — where the question is whether the data does or does not constitute personal information. Its all up in the air in the sense that it is a new area of law but it has to be considered, that’s all.

Lou Quillio's picture
Lou Quillio on December 17, 2003 - 06:14 Permalink

I’m guessing Peter is thinking of simple URIs that don’t bind identity to address. There are no privacy concerns, because no dweller would be obliged to acknowledge the existence of the URI. Publicly available geodata (obviously) puts me in front of your address. A civically-assigned street address URI doesn’t somehow tell me it’s you who lives there. That’s another matter, and you’ll have probably moved, anyhow.

Repeat: If your name and current address are known, you can be fixed on the map. Old hat.

If there are civic benefits, they would arise from leveling the field, from creating a free, public street-address data vocabulary to supplant the for-fee access this data still commands.

This could become a framework for countering privacy intrusions — maybe the only framework, eh?

Alan's picture
Alan on December 17, 2003 - 12:51 Permalink

That is true — if the thing is left inert it is of no concern. But that is of little likelihood. Land is either an asset of persons or a locator of persons. The new law is retroactive so the fact that you have lists now does not grandfather them after 1 January. Add a powerful new tool that allows for the manipulation of available data in new ways is always a concern. Perhaps we cut to the chase — what is the proposed purpose of the tool, Peter, and who will it be for?

Dico's picture
Dico on December 17, 2003 - 14:03 Permalink

I think Peter is just cutting some steps from the Mapblast or whatever mapping system’s way of finding locations. Rather then do a search for 300 University avenue and get a map, I can just type http://www.realcharlottetown.c… . I don’t see how this is any different then using an online mapping program (in the eyes of the law)… it is just cutting a couple steps and makes it quicker. Besides, what are people hiding?

Alan's picture
Alan on December 17, 2003 - 14:16 Permalink

…they are hiding the best cheeses…

Rusty's picture
Rusty on December 17, 2003 - 14:17 Permalink

can’t i also just wander into the property registry office and use the registry system to find names, addresses, parcel numbers and even whether the address is mortgaged? how is this affected by PIPEDA?

Ann's picture
Ann on December 17, 2003 - 14:53 Permalink

It might be worth figuring out since PIPEDA applies to all businesses as of January 2004…including small businesses.

As for what “they” are hiding…maybe they are being stalked by a former spouse who would like to hurt them.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on December 17, 2003 - 16:36 Permalink

Let me reiterate: I’m talking about giving addresses URLs, not people. And I’m not talking about linking people to addresses. I present this concept purely as a trial balloon: if every address had a URL, how could we use this for good?

Alan's picture
Alan on December 17, 2003 - 16:55 Permalink

I had asked how propose to use it. Accptablilty depends on application. Why do you even suggest doing it?

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on December 17, 2003 - 17:51 Permalink

I suggest doing it because that is in my nature.

Dico's picture
Dico on December 18, 2003 - 02:16 Permalink

I was talking with Jevon and a couple years ago we were discussing something like this… but also attaching a photograph of the property with the map.

Think of the possibilities… never again will people have to describe their house when they say, “Party at 300 University ave”… you can just go online and print off the map and photo.

DerekMac's picture
DerekMac on December 18, 2003 - 03:07 Permalink

You can already do the map stuff using MapBlast,
You could use it to provide delivery information for pizza,
FedEx, etc. e.g. my dog bites. Use the back door for delivery, and the front door for visitors. Deliveries accepted between 3 and 5 PM only.

You could include a picture of each house, with entrances marked. You could provide a history of each house by linking in excerpts from architectural and local history books. You could link in walking directions between two addresses, and include delivery area info(GrecoVille=True/False, postal carrier=Joe Doe)

Alan's picture
Alan on December 18, 2003 - 04:02 Permalink

We have an “every which way but blue” GIS system at work — which is not public — which can do all that and provide the coordinates and distances between every telephone pole, front doorknob and swing set. I don’t know if basing it on URLs would help as all the various databases sourced bring their own structure and issues. The trick is getting them to talk to each other without buying another tool to standardize. Then, of course, to vet for danger to the citizenry…but who wants to get into that.

Lou Quillio's picture
Lou Quillio on December 18, 2003 - 06:47 Permalink

Then, of course, to vet for danger to the citizenry…but who wants to get into that.

Dude, it’s smarter to promote a public counterweight than to fantasize about suppressing the ether of corporate data synergy. Any law that reduces to “you can’t know this,” or “can’t take action to learn that” has no traction, and in fact represents the enemy. Data-sharing prohibitions are ineffectual, wrong and distracting.

Privacy advocates have only two productive tacks, in regard to Peter’s flier: (1) respond quickly and actively to private meta-vocabularies that reach into the public realm, by crafting public equivalents; or (2) fight the Santa Clara fight.

Alan's picture
Alan on December 18, 2003 - 12:45 Permalink

You’ve already lost that war, Lou, and you don’t know it. The US went all ape over the EU directive and created the wacko world of “safe harbour”. You heard downloading is legal up here in Canada, too? It’s like a different country.

S.W.'s picture
S.W. on December 21, 2003 - 04:38 Permalink

… so a vacant property in Brae Harbour, PEI or a run-down shack in Lourdes, NL or First Canadian Place in Hogtown, ON would have a URL tied to a lat/long tied to a property ID tied to a taxation database tied to a Paul Martin Security Super Ministry database tied to a …. we don’t need the URL — everything else is already there (Oracle Spatial invaded several years ago).