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In 2018, Google’s sister company, Sidewalk Labs, unveiled its plans to test the idea of a ‘smart neighbourhood’ in Toronto. The aim of this project was to showcase the full potential for smart city services. Through using sensors to measure residents’ movements, the project aimed to learn how to design streets, buildings and transportation to measurably improve the lives of residents. The plan also included heated walkways, retractable ‘raincoats’, and sensors that would collect data on absolutely everything.

The resignation of privacy expert, Dr Ann Cavoukian from the project in late 2018 started a strong wave of backlash against the project. She claimed she’d left her role to “send a strong statement” about the privacy issues the project was facing. For many this was evidence enough that Sidewalk Labs weren’t serious in their public commitments to the privacy interests of citizens.

‘It is vital that smart cities are designed with privacy in mind’

Privacy is a legitimate concern for citizens in smart spaces, especially when there is the risk that third parties could access – legally or otherwise – identifiable information about them. This factor is what lead to the demise of trust in Sidewalk Lab’s project. This has paved the way for a new rhetoric around how public data is used in smart cities, especially as smart city projects continue to flourish around the globe.

However, it is important to stress that without data smart cities are conceptually redundant. If we look at transport, cities need real-time data streams of entire road networks to enable authorities to analyse the speed and density of traffic in real time and historically. In turn, this will help identify disruptions, and minimise and pinpoint congestion.

‘Fotech’s DAS monitoring platform has shown the many benefits that intelligent data collection can bring to both city authorities and citizens’

Technology is now available that enables just these sorts of insights. Indeed, Fotech’s trials in Calgary are one of the first instances where we have shown the value of DAS monitoring platforms by offering the transport insights smart cities will need. These data streams, covering public transport management (e.g. train and tram tracking) and road traffic monitoring show the many benefits that intelligent data collection can bring to both city authorities and citizens.

Crucially though, DAS can deliver these intelligent insights to city authorities to help them pinpoint certain issues while also appeasing privacy concerns. DAS gains insight from physical interactions with the world rather than relying on tracking personal metrics, on inherently anonymous data. With insights extracted from physical interactions with the world rather than relying on tracking personal mobile phone subscriber data or internet usage, DAS is a private solution.

‘DAS gains insight from physical interactions with the world rather than relying on tracking personal metrics’

It is vital that smart cities are designed with privacy in mind. We need to remember that smart cities are about improving everyday lives. It’s about adding value and convenience to what a city can offer its citizens, rather than tracking their every move. Data capture and analytics shouldn’t need to be personally identifiable in order to provide a meaningful service. Fotech’s DAS monitoring platform has shown the many benefits that intelligent data collection can bring to both city authorities and citizens.

 

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