It looks like the design of today’s smart cities may not be smart enough. In October, Ann Cavoukian, the Director of Privacy for Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs smart neighborhood project in Toronto, resigned after learning that not all data collected from residents would be de-identified at the source. In her resignation letter, Cavoukian likened the project to a “smart city of surveillance,” highlighting privacy concerns for smart cities as her reason for leaving. So, which is more important: creating smarter, safer cities, or keeping personal data safe?
The following are a few things to consider in weighing the options.
Privacy Concerns for Smart Cities: No Way to Avoid Them
Here is the thing: every project that involves data collection holds potential concerns over data privacy. We all know that cyber threats are increasing—and becoming increasingly sophisticated. We can assume that these dangers will only increase as the amount of data gathered via the Internet of Things (IoT) continues to grow. Until now, research shows many consumers have been willing to give up personal data so long as it benefits us in some way. (Exclusive shopping deals, anyone?) The issue becomes one of education and transparency. Will we, as smart city residents, know what data is being collected, how it’s being monitored, how it’s being used, to whom it’s being sold, and what will be done with it in the future? Will we have the option to “opt out” of some elements of data collection if they aren’t being de-identified? All of these questions will need to be answered clearly to assuage privacy concerns for smart cities.
Also, there’s a deeper philosophical element to smart cities too. At what point does the data collection become too much? A government entity will have access to tons of information about its citizens. Do we need to be wary of a situation like that? When is privacy more important that convenience? I don’t have an answer for that because I think it’s a very fine line and one each person needs to figure out. Just something we all need to be aware of.
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