Smart Cities do not mean the Death of Privacy

/ smart city

By Jon Salisbury

I think this title is a bit shocking but it hits home with so many people. I read an article with the same title here: (

The article then states

"Privacy advocates should gird themselves; a bold future is rapidly approaching, and it’s certain to put them to the ultimate test when it comes to securing citizen’s privacy and data."

The article had a few more points:

More connections mean less privacy! "If there’s one defining trait of smart cities, it’s their interconnectedness."
The price to pay for luxury? "So, what are privacy advocates to do? In truth, the answer is complicated, and at times wholly unsavory. If citizens want to enjoy the luxurious and booming lifestyles of smart city residents, they’ll need to be prepared to make some sacrifices."
Well, this author is by ignorant at best as he asserts this problem to "Smart Cities" and truly does not provide any solution. Let's start with privacy as of today. If you look at the world of cell phones or online shopping you will find one in which privacy has been killed for many years. This same problem could absolutely spill over to the smart city if it was not being governed by emerging regulation, and exist in a PUBLIC SPACE without opt in's.

If you want a cell phone with GPS, apps and all the other content at your fingertips you opt-in. And with that opt-in, you are giving up all or most privacy. Now a few new devices are being created without the intrusion but don't expect them to be as cost-effective as that phone you currently own which is paid for (in part) by the data/insights created from its use. So let us agree that nothing is worse than the current cell phone and online shopping experience by these vendors.

Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook and even Foursquare and Inrix = They are the worst privacy violators in the history of humankind. They add value and improve services with the data but are still violating you in my opinion. I actually think all of them are fantastic companies but the problem is deep in the market.

Now let's examine the statement "More connections mean less privacy!"

This statement is true if the data which is being collected is then correlated with other data. The connection itself is not a violation or a problem for privacy. It's the data on the back end that can be sold. So connection increase is good and data correlation and sales can be bad. Make sure you understand this is followed by an OPT-IN which you will need to agree to for this to happen. So in effect, you are enabling the bad behavior by opting in.

Let's examine the second proposal "The price to pay for luxury?"

This again is speaking of a value exchange. Things general cost less if the provider can get you to opt-in and you can choose whether to join the service or not. So the price to pay which would be higher for non-opt-in would be chosen by many people but it would be done knowing that this was occurring (If you read the opt-in). Some people ignore this just like when they order from Amazon, or use Google services and Facebook. The luxury of a smart city is to provide convenience and efficiency in your daily life. The systems will need to learn habits and patterns to predict potential benefit. Much in the same way your phone reminds you ahead of time a meeting is coming up and kicks in directions.


The main problem is that most data transactions happen in a 1 to 1 scenario or a 1 to many scenarios which are private between the organizations. The problem is no central index exists for these transactions meaning that an entity could potentially get data feeds from many sources and combine them into a scary service without anyone knowing. Example - Meaning the entity could potentially know what you bought, how much you make, type of things you like, past health conditions and choose not to lease you a condo based on 6 months out predictions (On health) which have nothing to do with a standard credit check. That is something that happens in the world today without smart cities existing. The problem is not a smart city problem but rather a current market conditions problems.

Solutions - It's all about governance.

The proposal we have in our IEEE P2784 which is a smart city standard for planning, architecture, and deployment including connectivity, sustainability, security, and mobility includes strong privacy controls at the top of the priority.

How do we correct this? We propose data exchanges existing on universities around the country which are the proxy for data sales. We propose regulation exists on these services and audits take place. This will help the market streamline transactions without having to create more relationships (Convenience) and at the same time provide visibility into the market.

This proposal actually puts governance back in play while at the same time providing convenience to the data sales market.

I more than welcome your thoughts on the matter and hope to build allies in our fight against the current data sales market dynamics.

To learn more please contact us today

Author - Jon Salisbury - CEO @ smartLINK - IEEE P2487 Vice Chair

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