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It’s difficult to imagine a world without cities. They provide a country’s cultural core, enabling numerous opportunities to engage with the community — from art galleries to museums, restaurants and beyond.

However, for all their undoubted positives, cities today are still facing a variety of issues. Housing costs, climate change and pollution are all contributing to an increased sense of alienation for city-dwellers.

Politics and community activism have a large role to play in solving these problems, but now they’re also being addressed by technology. Smart solutions, such as data-driven traffic management to improve air quality, are helping transform the ways cities operate.

But there are significant hurdles to overcome if ‘smart-cities’ are to be truly embraced by the public – not least of which is privacy.

Dangerous data

People are waking up to the importance of protecting their own data. Scandals like Cambridge Analytica harvesting personal information for political advertising purposes – without user’s consent – have proved a watershed moment in the public’s understanding of privacy issues.

And smart-cities may be particularly susceptible to concerns surrounding privacy, as there are legitimate fears of a surveillance state and ‘big brother’ being able to track people’s movements through urban areas.

China has already implemented a social credit system that ranks citizens based on their behaviour, and it’s easy to see how the technology of smart cities could fuel this phenomenon to the extreme.

There are ethical issues here that can’t be ignored. As technology gets more capable of solving cities’ problems, it’s important that they’re not simply replaced with new dilemmas surrounding privacy.

The key to overcoming the privacy issues that smart-cities face is through increased transparency in the way data is collected and the use of non-intrusive solutions.

Transparent technology

Technology such as Distributed Acoustic Sensing (DAS), can deliver the intelligent insights required to help make cities safer and more efficient places to live and work, while also addressing privacy concerns.

DAS gains information from physical interactions with the world rather than relying on tracking personal metrics, providing inherently anonymous data. There’s no harvesting of personal mobile phone subscriber or internet usage information – with DAS the public can rest-assured that their privacy is being respected.

And this is without any compromise on quality. Indeed, Fotech’s trials in Calgary have shown the value of DAS monitoring platforms. These data streams, covering public transport management and road traffic monitoring, show the many benefits that intelligent – and anonymised – data collection can bring to cities globally.

It’s vital that technology is implemented with privacy in mind. We need to remember that smart cities are about improving everyday lives – adding value and convenience to what a city can offer its citizens, rather than tracking their every move.

Data capture and analytics doesn’t need to be personally identifiable in order to provide a meaningful service, and Fotech’s DAS technology is proof positive of that fact.

Fotech are attending the Smart City Expo World Congress on November 19-21 in Barcelona. Join us and other visionary companies from around the world for exclusive insights on how technology is reinventing the modern city.