Smart cities
Smart cities

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Smart cities

4.4 Privacy and ethics

A graphic of a tablet labelled ‘Data privacy’. A hand is pointing to a padlock underneath the label.
Figure 5 Thinking about data privacy

The mass proliferation of connected devices, systems and services in the smart city inevitably raises questions about privacy. Who is monitoring and controlling the sensors on buildings, lamp-posts and pipes in the city? What happens if someone hacks into the city control centre? How secure is my information? Will they get access to my home energy use, travel habits and social care records?

Smart systems are rich sources of data that help cities to plan better services and businesses to create new products. But careful management of the data is crucial. Considerations of security, data ownership, access and ethics are all important. Considerations of security, data ownership, access and ethics are all important. Cities need to be thinking about questions such as:

  • How can a city government ensure that personal data is secure?
  • Can a citizen opt in or out of smart data collection?
  • How can a city ensure that the data being collected to design a city service is inclusive?

Better regulation on privacy, data ownership and security must balance the rights of individuals without stifling innovation. Smart cities must rely not only on data collected from tech-savvy users, as this could lead to the creation of services that exclude certain groups. All of this smart data collection will be a complex process. By involving citizens in the co-creation of smart city projects, cities can start to debate these issues. Citizens who are empowered to understand the value of their data are enabled to make better choices about who they share it with. There are certainly great opportunities for cities to benefit from smart technologies but the trust of citizens and their acceptance of initiatives will be crucial to the success of smart cities.


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