Q: What is OpenPaths?

OpenPaths is a secure data locker for personal location information. Using our mobile apps you can track your location, visualize where you've been, and upload your data to the OpenPaths website. You can then download your data from the website in a variety of friendly formats, including KML, JSON, and CSV. The OpenPaths API enables you to integrate your own software with the platform, and you can import data from location-based services like Foursquare. You can keep your location history to yourself, or you can share it with specific research initiatives, art projects, or educational programs as you so choose. The OpenPaths online interface allows you to manage who has access to your data. Regardless, your data is always encrypted on the OpenPaths servers, and cannot be accessed by anyone without your express consent. Read more...


Q: Where do I download OpenPaths?

The OpenPaths application is available on both the Apple Store for iOS and the Google Play Store for Android. A new release for both Android and iOS will be available for download in Mid-December.


Q: Why use OpenPaths?

It is fascinating to see where you've been! OpenPaths let's you explore your location history in detail. Additionally, if you are interested in working with location data, OpenPaths provides a clean, robust platform for collecting and converting that data for your own programming projects. Lastly, OpenPaths will give you the option to contribute your data to research taking place around the world. Researchers are working on problems like disaster preparedness, traffic flow, urban planning, and disease transmission. Your data could help solve real problems, locally and globally.


Q: How is OpenPaths different from other location-based services?

The data you store with OpenPaths are your data. Thousands of commercial services and platforms make use of your location, but some also mine or sell that data for other purposes. Additionally, they typically do not share the raw data with a very important individual — you. With OpenPaths, your data are encrypted, so no one can access it — including the OpenPaths administrators — without your express permission and participation. You can view our Terms of Service and our Privacy Policy for more information.


Q: I see an overview of OpenPaths data — if my data is encrypted, how was it made?

In order to facilitate the overview map and handle geographically-targeted project requests, OpenPaths keeps an index of what regions you have visited. In this case, a region is defined by a geohash of length 3. This approximates a location to within 21 miles / 78 kilometers. We make this information public only as aggregated data on the overview map. The regions you have personally visited are stored internally but are kept private, and the dates you have visited a given region, or the frequency with which you visit a given region, are not stored. However, unlike your raw data, region information is not encrypted. This small compromise allows us to understand what regions our users' data covers without inspecting location data directly, and without risk of identifying any one user or group.


Q: How do the iPhone and Android apps collect data?

The OpenPaths apps run in the background on your device and are designed to have minimal impact on battery life. Rather than report your position continuously via GPS, the app logs any "significant" change in location as determined by the device APIs. The apps are not intended to use when tracking athletics, for example, when a high-resolution GPS path might be desirable. Rather, the OpenPaths apps are intended to drop digital breadcrumbs as you move throughout the places in your world every day.

In addition to recording location changes in the background, bringing the app into focus on your device will generate a point at your current location. The OpenPaths apps will periodically sync any recorded data to the OpenPaths servers. You can turn off auto-sync in the settings panel.


Q: If someone hacks into OpenPaths, can they identify me and my location files?

No. We are very serious about security. While there are inherent risks in transferring and storing personal data, OpenPaths employs industry-leading security practices and encryption standards to ensure that your data are secure. Since your data are encrypted on our servers, not even OpenPaths administrators can access it without your express permission and participation.


Q: Does OpenPaths work with iTunes backup files?

When OpenPaths first launched, it featured an uploader application that scanned your harddisk for location data in iOS backup files. Since iOS version 4.3.3, iPhones no longer backup their location data. Consequently, we no longer support the uploader application and have launched mobile apps instead.


Q: OpenPaths looks different and no longer requires my 'passphrase' — what happened?

OpenPaths has a new look which reflects a rewrite of its codebase. While OpenPaths was originally designed to bring insight to location information in your iOS backup files, we are transitioning to a broader view of the project as a platform for working with geographic data.

During the rewrite, we considered that many OpenPaths participants expressed difficulty with our old 'passphrase' system. We engineered a new way to protect both your identity and your data — it is actually more secure than our previous model, even though it doesn't require a passphrase. After you supply your passphrase once, your data will be migrated to the new model and you will no longer need to remember it.


Q: Can I change my mind later and remove my data from OpenPaths?

Yes. OpenPaths was built on the idea that you are in control of your information, and that includes deleting your information and your account. This option is always available to you on your data page.

Once you delete your information, it will be permanently removed from OpenPaths, and any projects you may have granted access to will no longer be able to retrieve your data. If you had previously granted access to a research project, that researcher may retain the data you provided, as long as they retrieved it from OpenPaths before you removed it.


Can I recover my password if I have forgotten it?

There is no way to recover a forgotten password on OpenPaths. Your password is an integral piece of how your data is encrypted — without it, your data cannot be accessed. It is inconvenient, certainly. But enabling password recovery means storing passwords on our servers insecurely, allowing for potential intrusion attacks or other malicious abuse.


Q: How do projects work?

OpenPaths projects request data from OpenPaths participants. A participant grants access to a project to work with their data by issuing a revocable encryption key. Each project has an owner, who can be anyone with an OpenPaths account. The data of participants who have approved access to a project are included in the downloads, map, and API that are accessible to the project owner.

See the project page for more information.


Q: When I share my data with a project, will the project get other information about me?

No. Nothing is included in the data accessible by projects except for your geographic points, how those points were generated (app version, platform, etc), and an anonymous id. Your name and email are not included and are at no time shared with the project.


Q: If I share my data with a project and then I decide to delete my data from OpenPaths, will the project still have access to my data?

It depends. Once you have approved access to your data by a project, the project owner may choose to download your data. If you revoke access to your data or if you choose to delete your data from OpenPaths entirely, no additional points will be available to the project. However, any information that has already been downloaded by a project owner cannot be deleted.


Q: Who runs OpenPaths?

OpenPaths is a community project initiated by the Research and Development Lab at the New York Times Company. In Fall 2016, management of OpenPaths was transferred to researchers at UC San Diego and became a part of the Health Data Exploration Project, a project funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. To get in touch with us, send an e-mail to info@hdexplore.calit2.net.


Q: Does the New York Times own or have access to my data?

No, the New York Times Company has no privileged access whatsoever to your data. They just run the servers. You can view our Terms of Service and our Privacy Policy for more information.


Q: I still have a question...

If you have a question about OpenPaths, please contact info@openpaths.cc