Mapping minority-owned and women-owned businesses

@turepalsson Exactly. How should I, as the operator of a copy of the OSM database, make sure that this data has been “made public by the data subject”? Trust in the mapper who added the information is not quite a valid legal option.

I could see the benefits of mapping this type of information. But then on the other hand verifiability and people indiscriminately using the tags based on racial or cultural observations are also problems. It’s not a one to one comparison by any means, but a while ago someone had tagged a house with name=drug_dealer and for obvious reasons I deleted it. Who says the person who lived there wasn’t fine with the free advertising though and at the end of the day should it have really mattered if they were? I don’t know, but it’s probably better to draw a clear line in the sand against mapping that type of information from the start, instead of taking a hands off position that relies on locals not just tagging a minority owned business as such because they happen to see owner is Asian or whatever. I’m sure that well there are many businesses open about that type of information a lot more don’t want it being shared online.


Not directly.

I would note that I would fully support this if it was just a question of mapping, but in the balance it is very difficult to make a case that the added value of having this data available outweighs the risks (legal and reputational).


If we haven’t satisfied Godwin’s law yet, we’ve come quite close to it in this discussion…

When minorities proudly represent their identity – posting a Black-owned business sign, flying a Pride flag, displaying a religious symbol – they’re very often taking a calculated risk. That’s their decision to make. As a project that many of these people have never heard of, we have to be prudent about not giving them more attention than they bargained for. But at the same time, we wouldn’t want to take a patronizing stance toward their decision either.

You have a point that racial and gender identity may be too sensitive and nuanced to make it easily machine-readable and queryable as Big Data. Establishing a definitive tag could give mappers a perverse incentive to aim for completeness where completeness isn’t warranted. But what about a less machine-readable approach?

For as long as I’ve been around this project, tech-savvy business owners and SEO specialists have been putting in description tags that boast of the owner’s credentials. Very often, these tags are pure ad copy that cheapens the map we’re building. That stuff belongs on the mythical reviews database that data consumers are supposed to mash up with OSM data. However, the owner’s membership in a protected class is a relatively objective qualification by comparison. I think it’s OK if the business owner matter-of-factly lists their qualifications as long as someone can later verify that they still claim to have those qualifications.

Every data consumer already knows that description comes with a caveat emptor. A description=Black-owned business may not be as readily consumable as some of the tags proposed earlier. But maybe if we do a better job of cleaning out the description spam in OSM, application developers would feel more comfortable displaying one of these more serious description tags in a textbox somewhere.


As someone who self-identifiies thier learning disability, I appreciate your concern about my wellbeing. Though I believe it is a somewhat misguided and feels a bit patronizing.

The thing is by self-identifing a protected status that person is making a statement about themselves. Sometimes it is simply a requirement to qualify for a program that assists that historically underserved group. Even then it is often it is a source of pride that the business is operating in spite of many challenges. Some faced by the owner and others just for operating business in a tough neighborhood.

I agree that we should verify if and how a business owner discloses any of thier protected status. It is important that people or businesses are not harmed due to an unintentionally outing. At the same, we must respect the wishes of an owner to advertise their membership in a possible controversial community.


Advertising this locally and in the end even on a website is a risk they can control (for example by removing a sign/flag/whatever) and likely have a reasonable grip on how large it is. That is not the same as everybody globally having the information at their finger tips in a fashion that is completely out of their control.


There is a reputational benefit to OSM to store this.

Mapping minority owned businesses:

  • … opens up new types of mapping, and attracts new types of mappers who care about this.
  • … allows new types of maps and uses of map data
  • … shows the benefits of OSM’s wiki approach.

It shows that the subaltern can map, and you need OpenStreetMap to do it!

As an experienced OSMer, I dislike at the original idea of women-owned=yes (etc.) because I think _ instead of - are more in keeping with OSM & would prefer owned to be a prefix, not a suffix. :rofl: Otherwise, I suggest OSMers to start adding tags like this, and other OSMers to leave it alone.


Why the use of “owned” instead of “owner”? We already have a full namespace of owner:XY tags, so why should this feature (in the case we are really sure that we want it in the database) use another term?


As the operator of a copy of the OSM database you can simply not show/process/support this data if you want.

Note that name tag also may contain private data made public by someone malicious, or someone could draw forest in a fake shape that forms letters revealing some private data and so on.

In general there are usually laws limiting legal impact in case of user-provided data, especially in cases where you have not intended to process such data in the first place (but I am not a lawyer!). Strict liability exists in some cases but it is relatively unusual, especially in this context (still not a lawyer!).

In general, no matter what is the data source, you cannot be 100% sure that it contains no problematic private data - even if you checked all entries maybe something was missed.


That issue is actually much broader than the thread title. The are actually quite a few jurisdictions around the world that legally define their own “alternative facts” that contradict ground truth - OSM maps without any adjustment are illegal in those places.

It absolutely makes sense to discuss “whether it is a good idea to collect X data” but “not doing so just because it is illegal in Y jurisdiction” isn’t on its own a good reason to not map them, although often “things that are illegal” overlaps with “data that it is not a good idea to collect”.


We are certainly under no obligation to “respect the wishes of an owner to advertise” anything. Particularly if that would make as legally or at least ethically responsible for any unintended consequences.


At first I thought this idea was fine because it is quite common to see this information on Google Maps business listings:

However, it seems theses labels can only be applied by the business owner themselves after claiming the listing and going through the verification process. Anyone can click the “Suggest an edit” button to contribute basic information like address, hours, or phone number but these demographic tags are not open for contributions from the public. This system ensures that this information will only be on listings for businesses that want to be promoted in this way and protects against negative usage of these attributes. If we had a similar system in OSM, I’d see no problem with businesses opting in to these labels. Since we do not, the information can be added by anyone for either positive or negative reasons.

It seems to me that if this information is to be in OSM, it must be handled with care. It may be appropriate in some areas and completely inappropriate in others. Local communities will have to decide what is appropriate for their culture. What the tags need to represent is not the fact that a business is black owned or women owned, but the fact that the business wishes to be known as black owned or women owned. While still a verifiable fact, this is much harder to prove and may change over time as the social and political winds shift.


For all the hypothetical cases of harm described here, I fail to see how mapping a minority-owned business is a more significant issue than mapping other sensitive places such as places of worship, schools, LGBTQ venues, government offices, critical infrastructure, or the like.

We have well-established community guidelines for mapping all of these things, including restrictions on mapping under specific circumstances. Judging by the millions of POIs in other sensitive categories, this is something that the OSM community is broadly comfortable with.

Would we apply these same hypothetical arguments to other types of sensitive places and determine that they should also be removed from OSM?


I haven’t seen such information at all in Greece, so I can’t tell if it’s really suitable for OSM aswell or no.
In theory, if the owner has signs outside of their business with such information, it could be mapped aswell. Else, if there’s no sign, even if the owner is known to be under a such category, it shouldn’t be mapped.


At least in my mind there’s a huge difference between mapping if a business is friendly to the LGBTQ community versus mapping that the person who owns the business is a member of community. One directly relates to the physical business and has to do with what communities it provides services to. Whereas the other doesn’t. A business being owned by a gay person has absolutely no bearing on what kind of services the business provides to it’s costumers and anyone will shop there. The whole point in a gay bar is that it caters specifically to gay people though. The same as say mapping baby changing tables directly impacts data consumers who are parents, but a business owner being a parent is completely meaningless to the stores costumers.


Sure, but we’ve already established in this thread that:

  1. There are people, at least in the US, who wish to provide this kind of information publicly about their business
  2. There are people, at least in the US, who wish to use this kind of information when it’s made public on a POI, so the information is not meaningless as you assert.
  3. The community is comfortable mapping information, such as religious affiliations, that I would argue are even more sensitive.

I don’t see anyone in here arguing we should allow this information to be added broadly without discretion. There are reasonable ethical and safety concerns with doing that. But if we go back to the questions and information Kai started this thread on, we’re talking about businesses that have made this information public, and that upon being contacted by Kai to confirm they wanted the information public said not only were they comfortable with it, but that they want it. The hypotheticals and comparisons to other cases in OSM ring very hollow to me in light of all of this information.


I think this is a reasonable point of caution. I’d personally argue that businesses that make this information public in their storefront and/or online understand that the information doesn’t stay limited to that spot, but I also know that may not always be true and that expectation could vary place to place.

That said, I think the same points of consent around mapping other people’s information come up with all kinds of attributes of a business. By mapping at all, we’re assuming some right to place publicly, but locally, provided information into a central database and I’m not yet persuaded that it’s different in cases where the business owner has chosen to highlight their ownership.

To be clear, I see no issue with this information being included in OSM for businesses that do want it highlighted. However, whether they want it highlighted can be time consuming to verify and is subject to interpretation by mappers. Because of this the tags will likely proliferate to businesses that don’t want it highlighted. Is the upside to those that do, worth the downside for those who don’t? I don’t know. But we should consider this carefully.


Both your points could apply to the person who tagged the house down the street from them as a drug dealer, but so what? Just because people want to provide the information and there might be a market for it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good fit for OpenStreetMap. There should really be more to it then that. Especially when adding the information could lead to potential legal and safety issues. It’s not an either or thing though. I’d probably support adding who owns a business if it’s based only information they provide, but I see no way for something like that be enforced. Otherwise it probably be an issue, but random people shouldn’t be adding the racial makeup of who lives or work somewhere to OpenStreetMap, period. I could really care less if someone finds it useful. Just like I could care less what houses drug dealers live in.

Maybe it’s just me but I’ve been in plenty of minority owned business in my life and they have been no different then non-minority owned ones. No business can discriminate based on inherent characteristics and it’s not like African American’s or LGBTQ people live on Mars and buy stuff “normal” people don’t. They usually shop at and by the same products that everyone else does. Acting like they are a separate unique class with different products and retail outlets is just cringe.

The only people who care about this kind of stuff is liberals who have white guilt and think shopping at a minority owned store somehow makes up for slavery or some nonsense. It’s totally meaningless IRL though. A minority owned business is no different functionally then one that’s not owned by a minority. Otherwise what actual difference is there between a minority owned business compared non-minority owned one besides the skin color or culture of the owner and how does either of those effect shopping at those business in any way what-so-ever?

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Flip it on its head:


If a business wants it highlighted enough that they’ve put up a sign, we map that. If they haven’t, we don’t. And signage is a verifiable fact that is always worth mapping.