The world, as we know it to be today, is a global village. This is made possible with the availability of information through people and culture’s interconnectivity since the Internet’s advent. Unlike how things were in the 1960s when communication theorist Marshall McLuhan coined the term “global village,” technology has changed the way the world operates.
Crucial sectors, such as health, education, transportation, security, economy, and governance, have experienced transformation through technological disruption. Talking in smaller settings like the home, we have Internet of Things (IoT) technology making household chores and activities more comfortable and centralized. The capabilities and benefits of this IoT technology are numerous, so it is being implemented to improve citizens’ welfare in various cities.
What is a Smart City?
The idea of a smart city might strike anyone as an urban area with automated infrastructure, robots, and all of that. While this is true, the reality of a smart city is relative. Eduardo Paes, former Mayor of Rio de Janeiro, describes one as “…those who manage their resources efficiently.”
This could be buttressed with the fact that the primary goal of a smart city is to improve the effectiveness of governance and improvement in citizen’s welfare. Those mentioned above can then now be achieved through automation and, particularly, data gathering.
Current Smart City Trends
Although it was mentioned earlier that the idea of a smart city is relative, outlined below are some common trends in developed cities:
- Traffic Management: For those living in metropolitan areas, traffic is a real concern for them. However, with technology, routes can be adequately managed, and traffic diverted to reduce congestion at a single location. Currently in use at Hangzhou, “City Brain,” an Artificial Intelligence (AI) program, has shown impressive results – recording a 15% reduction in traffic congestion in the Chinese city.
- Efficient Use of Resources: A perfect example of this is in Spain, where sensors are attached to refuse bins. These sensors help the garbage collectors determine which containers are full and need to be emptied. This, in turn, would help determine the appropriate number of trucks to be deployed at a particular time, saving cost and resources.
- Greener Environment: Asides investments in eco-friendly energy sources, technology is also being used to check energy consumption in smart cities. In Amsterdam, energy consumption is tracked to reward those with low energy consumption. In New York, sensors control how bright the street lights shine depending on how bright natural light is, reducing energy consumption.
Others include safer cities, e-governance, faster connectivity, etc. All these have their benefits; however, there is one major bone of contention – data gathering.
Privacy Concerns relating to Data Collection
All these technological innovations ride on the availability of data to train models and datasets.
Although some of the data are obtained legally, others aren’t. Private and government parastatals have been rumored and sometimes proven to be snooping through people’s personal devices and online data activity. This is a clear breach of privacy as the Wiretap Act and the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits this.
Whether legal or illegal, data gathering is dangerous as a server breach could potentially expose people’s data to exploitation and misuse. People are fast realizing this and have become skeptical of practices that might involve giving up their data. A recent example of this is the privacy concerns around Google’s smart city project in Toronto. The purported collaboration between the City of Toronto and Alphabet, Google’s parent company, has been met with criticism.
Despite the promise of efficiency and sustainability, smart cities raise privacy concerns over the extensive amount of data collected. Would you let the government and big tech companies erode your privacy in the name of societal improvement? Can you trust that the organizations and government agencies would not use your data for nefarious purposes or sell it as a commodity?
Unfortunately in a smart city, there are times when you cannot avoid your data being collected. Your activities might even be tracked by cameras and sensors without you even knowing. As data collection grows in scale, smart cities could become surveillance states in no time.
That said, you can still take actions in the meantime to safeguard your privacy:
- Turn off location services on your devices unless in use;
- Use a VPN, especially when connecting to public networks;
- Be wary of websites and applications you submit your personal information to;
- Always read and understand privacy policies before you accept them.
Picture by Pixabay.