OneBusAway is an integrated, open-source suite of software components that provides real-time and schedule information for public transit, supported by a nonprofit organization that is responsive to the needs of transit agencies and the riders. It is also an important alternative to the surveillance capitalism business model for providing such information. In this post, I will argue that King County Metro, Sound Transit, and other regional agencies should embrace it more fully, in particular by giving an official status to the OneBusAway apps rather than regarding them as just one of many “third-party” apps.
Regarding surveillance capitalism: a large portion of the software side of the global information technology infrastructure, including web search, email, social media, and much more, is often provided free to the end users, although the corporations that provide this, for example Google and Facebook, are often enormously profitable. The business model for this involves customized advertising and sometimes behavior manipulation, powered by intensive gathering and cross-correlation of detailed personal information. These companies provide some great products and services that are free to the end users. But surveillance capitalism has a dark side as well, with negative impacts for privacy, autonomy, human dignity, and democracy. The term comes from Shoshana Zuboff – please see her recent book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power, or a recent interview.
Accurate and convenient schedule and real-time transit information, particularly when available to riders on apps on mobile devices, is an important part of making transit satisfying and easy to use. Much of this information is provided via a surveillance capitalism business model, for example via Google maps. Another source of information is via apps provided by venture-capital funded startups, for example Transit App or Moovit – it seems safe to assume that these, too, have an eventual goal of participating in the surveillance capitalism business model. (Venture capitalists seem unlikely to invest tens of millions of dollars in for-profit corporations just because they want the world to have better transit information.) OneBusAway provides an important nonprofit alternative.Continue reading “Surveillance Capitalism, Transit Information, and OneBusAway”