Names of land owners

Hello fellow mappers. I noticed a recent addition in my neck of the woods by the user ContraBand (Changeset: 145275022 | OpenStreetMap) included farmland and ‘meadows’ (which I still find a cumbersome way of tagging pasture land, but that’s neither here nor there…) with the names of the owners in the name=* key.

That in and of itself isn’t right because the farmer’s fields are not themselves named after these people—for example the field owned by Messrs. Daley and Van Tighem is not itself called “DALEY, R VAN TIGHEM, T” (and tagging this all-caps is stylistically obviously not correct either). However, I’m starting this discussion to pose the question: is it appropriate in the first place to add the names of private individual owners to these features?

I suspect ContraBand got the info from a Mountain View County land ownership map or database, hence why it’s all-caps: just copy-pasted from that source. The information may be considered copyright if that’s the case, although if added by manual cross-check rather than automated import I think it would be difficult to argue it’s a copyright violation. I suspect the information, if gleaned from the county, is probably very accurate, although there’s no way to know with certainty without pulling the land titles from the provincial registry.

In principle is it right to put people’s names in OSM as owners though? It’s not as though OSM is a cadastral property map, but we do have the owner=* key, and I’ve reviewed the discussion on the wiki talk page (Talk:Key:owner - OpenStreetMap Wiki). The discussion there seemed inconclusive…

Thanks in advance for your thoughts on the matter!

No, this is not correct and need to be redacted, not just removed. Please email to get that going.


Hello. Nice to be here.

The information i posted into a few parcels of land just for place holders while I am editing the area, not something I intended to keep permanently.

On the issue of posting ownership details, personally, I don’t see that an issue, its public information that freely available to everyone. Around here, we often use the names of the owners to help identify areas, especially in the case of farm animals that may have escaped and wondering around on roads etc. and we want to find the owners to alert them.

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Hello ContraBand, thanks for joining. :slightly_smiling_face:

I tend to agree that this is ultimately publicly available info, and in the specific case of agricultural land it’s not uncommon in Alberta to want/need to know who the land owners are, for the example you have of reuniting lost livestock with their owner. Still, it’s… I hope you understand where I’m coming from with a kind of general unease about putting the owners’ info on OSM. Just seems… not wrong per se, but not entirely correct? It’s why I wanted to start this conversation.

I think it begs questions about verifiability. It’s not like every farmer’s field has their name on it: one has to go look this up from a county map or land titles.

please, do not add fake names or fake data - even as temporary placeholders (and it seems pretty sure this fields are not named this way)

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please, do not add fake names or fake data - even as temporary placeholders

placeholders should not be used, that’s right. If it is public information and locally used to identify the place, there shouldn’t be privacy issues, or maybe there are nonetheless? What are the arguments that the information cannot be added?

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This is why I started this topic in the first place. The discussion on the wiki talk page ranged the gamut from “if this info is publicly available, what’s the harm?” to something like Brian’s response earlier:

Not only not worth keeping, not only not permissible to keep, but this information must be expunged from the OSM database entirely?

Yep, this is standard practice. IANAL but the wiki article below discusses some of the legal aspects, and of course there’s a GDPR and privacy angle.


Even as OSM has an owner=* tag and even as Canadian law likely isn’t as privacy-protecting as the EU’s GDPR, these sorts of data do not belong in OSM. There ARE cadestrals for these, OSM isn’t a cadastral, and “never the two shall meet.” If you want a wandering cow to find her way home, consult a cadastral, not OSM.

However, for things that are owned by corporations (or even individuals, like a doctor’s office or a legal practice), because they offer services to the public, their ownership (and sometimes operator=* is used to clarify this when it differs) is correct to enter into OSM with an owner=* tag.

And even, like we have in my country, things (parks, airports, nature reserves, public facilities…) can be tagged, for example, owner=People of the state of California where true. Private residences / land parcels, no.

Beside not being a land registry, OSM is only recording stable government data or purely public data. We care about things like address which is assigned to the land by the post office. Signs advertising a business along the information on the website. In both cases, the information has been presented for public consumption or is verified by a government agency and unrelated to the current occupations of the property.

Yep, this is standard practice. IANAL but the wiki article below discusses some of the legal aspects, and of course there’s a GDPR and privacy angle.

it says Do not name individuals in OpenStreetMap tags, unless their name is on a business sign posted towards the street, or part of the business name or otherwise publicly available.

unless otherwise publicly available

The complicating factor in Alberta (and western Canada in general) is that data regarding land ownership is public. Land ownership is publicly recorded in a Torrens style register managed by the provincial government. Land titles are specifically excluded from privacy protection legislation (Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, RSA 2000, c F-25, ss. 4(1)(l)(v)). Land ownership maps of Alberta’s rural municipalities are commonly available for public consumption: you can buy a physical map from a map store, and the counties themselves typically makes maps publicly available online (e.g. PDF).

[Sidenote: addresses are absolutely not “assigned to the land by the post office”. Mailing addresses on a rural route or a post office box are assigned by Canada Post, but to me this would be really, really silly to add to OSM other than perhaps for businesses’ contact info. The land will either have a civic address assigned by the municipal government, e.g. “123456 Township Road 987, Anywhere County, Alberta”, or the legal address in the Alberta Township Survey system ([Legal Subdivision-Quarter Section-]Section-Township-Range-Meridian, e.g. “01-25-28-W4”); the latter is slowly being replaced by civic (“rural”) addresses.]


This is true in the USA and other places as well, but OSM does not consider this “a complicating factor.” We simply say “should a mapping use case require cadastral data, consult the cadastral, not OSM.”

The corollary is that OSM excludes cadastral data, regardless of whether any given locale considers these data public or private — OSM simply doesn’t enter them in the first place.


I appreciate your thoughts Steve. It did not go unnoticed that you were one of the contributors to the discussion on the wiki talk page about the owner=* key. :wink: I tend to agree that including ownership information could be problematic, hence why I began this discussion in the first place. I’m basically just playing devil’s advocate to help hash it out. You said in your earlier reply:

In this case these are often corporately owned pieces of agricultural land, and generally this is mapped in legal subdivisions no less than 40 acres. In point of fact much of the land near the town of Carstairs is owned by the estate of a woman who died over 30 years ago, thus she doesn’t really have an expectation of or right to privacy at this point. Is it problematic to include this corporately-owned land?

You made the point that you could map things that are owned by the State or ‘public’ (I saw your work on California/Using CPAD data - OpenStreetMap Wiki); the equivalent here would be what we call “Crown land”. Some Crown land is explicitly protected as parks or Public Land Use Zones (PLUZs); some isn’t. Some is leased to private operators for agricultural uses such as animal grazing, or forestry. Usually Crown land is accessible to the public with few restrictions—grazing leaseholders might require prior notice before accessing the land, travel only by foot (no motor vehicles), no camping, etc.

These land ownership maps that display private land ownership are the very same sources one uses to determine the extent of Crown land. Not to say it would be impossible to find other sources that display the extent of Crown land without including private land ownership info, just saying they’re often presented as one and the same data on the same map. Do we use the maps to map Crown land but ignore the privately owned land?


Good to be appreciated, @hoserab (it’s good of you to say that, it helps keep things civil; we can agree, we can disagree, we can keep things civil, all at the same time).

If you want to map (implying tagging properly) Crown land in Canada, I have no problem with that, as I suspect OSM doesn’t have a problem with that either. Parks and PLUZs (and even “closed to the public,” but “owned by the public” or “held in trust for the public as Crown land” or something very similar) get mapped in OSM all the time.

For those tracts which are Crown land but “leased to private operators,” well, we have those in the USA, too, like public land tagged landuse=grassland because it is pasture for cattle or public land tagged landuse=industrial or landuse=quarry because it used for resource extraction. Here, use the correct owner=* tag for Crown land, and add an operator=* tag (if known) and perhaps a landuse=* tag, as appropriate. When access is specifically one thing or another (yes, public, private, permissive, no…), use an access=* tag.

To your ending question, you could use “those” maps to map Crown land in OSM (as, analogously, I might use CPAD data to properly map and tag public / protected access lands in my state). And yes, please ignore the privately owned land.

Finally, just because someone is deceased does not mean their privacy should not be respected. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “don’t speak ill of the dead,” but there is no legal basis to ignore respect (or even legal rights, where applicable) to an entity because it is held in trust, by heirs or because a once-owner is no longer alive. The simple tenet I and OSM uphold is that we don’t map private property / cadastral (-style) data, like plat / parcel / plot ownership, as there are other data sources to do so. They’ve been doing it for centuries, they do so just fine, there is no reason to duplicate these data in OSM. But public lands, and private lands which are “public facing” (like businesses open to the public…a large tract of land used for farming by a big agri-corp doesn’t apply here) do find their way into OSM, with wide consensus.

Thanks for keeping it civil, I (and others, I suspect) continue to be happy to discuss these issues.


Thank you all for the feedback. Per @ZeLonewolf 's earlier suggestion I have emailed the DWG to ask for the info to be redacted.

@ContraBand : hopefully no harm, no foul? I appreciate your continued contributions in Alberta, and hopefully we can all agree that for the reasons discussed here we shouldn’t add the names of landowners to the map going to forward.

Thanks again!


Names removed from the landuse and redaction performed on the related changesets.

To see the effect of the redaction click on any of the related landuses, like this:

Marc Zoutendijk
OpenStreetMap Foundation
Data Working Group


Finally, just because someone is deceased does not mean their privacy should not be respected. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “don’t speak ill of the dead,” but there is no legal basis to ignore respect (or even legal rights, where applicable) to an entity because it is held in trust, by heirs or because a once-owner is no longer alive.

AFAIK, the US (federal and state) as the European legislation doesn’t recognize privacy rights for dead people, I think they aren’t considered persons any more (but maybe this is not the correct way to say it). There may nonetheless be privacy concerns related to relatives (that are still alive) in some cases, imagine someone had a hereditary disease.


There is what is required by law and there is what we choose to do (or not do) based upon respect and polite behavior.

but we are not discussing to deny respect to someone or talk bad about them without foundation, all this is about is having them as a name for a field they once owned, which is locally still used to identify the place.