FutureStructure

Privacy Concerns Jeopardize ‘Smart’ Cities

Municipalities that deploy sensors in partnership with tech companies are confronted with a host of ethical questions, and must decide which behavior is suitable to track and whether data should be sold to marketers.

by Citiscope / July 16, 2015

From Africa to South America, "smart" cities reliant on sensors that monitor everything from potholes to water leaks are touted as urbanism’s future. The information can be mined to spot trends and deficiencies — or used to guide planning. But data-science expert Mike Weston writes in the Wall Street Journal that comprehensive information gathering has a downside: privacy intrusions.

Municipalities that deploy sensors in partnership with tech companies are confronted with a host of ethical questions. They must decide which behavior is suitable to track and whether data should be sold to marketers.

While people already cede privacy with every mouse click and credit card purchase, smart cities raise the stakes since the movements and habits of citizens can be tabulated. “The difference is that with a smart city this data will be centralized and easy to access,” notes Weston, CEO of London-based data-science consultancy Profusion.

Laws and regulations could provide some protection. But the executive cautions that policymakers routinely fail to keep pace with digital innovations. Even without new laws, he recommends clear guidelines to avoid a citizen backlash.