Smart Cities Need Smart Clicks
Security cameras, air quality sensors, mobile apps, and energy meters are devices with which we live and interact every day in our cities. However, they are more than simple equipment of the urban landscape. These devices respond to and are the backbone of the smart city model.
What is a smart city model, and why do we need to be ahead of its development?
In 2020, the cities have invested around 124 billion dollars in digital and physical infrastructure, seeking to create a coordinated system where all citizens' movements are recorded and producing constant information in real-time.
With this data and technology, local governments can accomplish effective and immediate management of urban challenges, such as energy supply, control of CO2 emissions, efficient planning of the public transport system, equitable provision of health services, and urban safety.
An example of a recent smart city strategy is the Cívica card, the articulating element of the mass public transport of Medellín, Colombia, and its metropolitan area, also known as the Aburrá Valley. The Cívica card is a contactless smart card that allows collecting money from citizens who travel by public transport. Today, a person can travel from extreme points of the metropolitan area with a single fee while allowing the system to track the mobility, time spent, and commuters' hotspots. But, the Civic card will be much more than a card to mobilize. The Metropolitan Area is working together with the Metro de Medellín Ltd (Colombia’s only commuter rail line) on the CivicaPay mobile app, a mobile wallet that will allow users to pay for public services, prepay their cell phones and make purchases at businesses linked to CivicaPay. With this application, citizens will be able to plan their mobility around the city while using a wide range of affordable urban services, all with a single click.
Like Cívica, hundreds of examples in the world integrate urban services into applications and technologies that are easily accessible to citizens. However, these technologies have raised many questions regarding their side effects. With these applications and technological devices, a large amount of private information from citizens is being captured. Information that can be used and manipulated by governments or third parties for unauthorized purposes. Contrary to what many people think, this information is obtained through cyber fraud or privacy breaches; by clicking on the accept option in the Terms and Conditions tab that emerges from the pages and mobile applications, citizens also open the door so that others access their data.
An illustrative case of possible side effects of these kinds of apps and open data is the social credit system the Chinese government is seeking to implement. By integrating applications and data obtained from urban technological devices, the Chinese authorities can track its citizens' movements and economic transactions and use it to profile and determine citizens' access to certain urban services. For example, those who misbehave in transportation systems will enter into a public blacklist connected to other urban information systems. Thus, it could be more difficult for those on this blacklist to get government jobs, buy houses or enroll their children in their choice schools.
This example shows how essential it is that in this process of innovation and modernization in urban management towards smart cities, cybersecurity measures and protection of people’s privacy are implemented. These measures and strategies for cybersecurity and privacy protection are under the umbrella of the concept of data ethics.
Data ethics is a branch of ethics that evaluates ethical problems related to the data that algorithms and artificial intelligence record, process and use. Data ethics seeks to formulate and support solutions that respect the privacy and dignity of individuals.
How can smart cities make efficient, transparent and ethical use of citizen data? We present five principles that are essential in an ethical data protection policy:
1 Privacy: the identity and data obtained from citizens must be private; that is, the information obtained from a person can be shared with others, as long as said information does not leave a trace of the users’ identity.
2. Confidential treatment: the medical, financial, geolocation and consumption information of an individual should not be shared with others without the citizens’ consent. This information must also be clear and concise. What happens most of the time is that people click the accept button without carefully reading the information contained in the pop-up tab Terms and Conditions that appears each time they open a website or mobile app.
3. Transparency: users must have a transparent view of how their data is used or sold and the ability to manage the flow of their private information through massive third-party analytical systems or cookies.
4. Right to will and self-determination: the algorithms used for data analysis can lead to citizens’ profiling. They can cause the system to make decisions for people that go against their will. The case of China is a clear example of how a smart city model can threaten individual choice.
5. Neutrality: the algorithms and data collected by mobile applications or devices should be free from racial, sexual or age discrimination.
We are hopeful that future cities will be smart, not only because of the efficient use of technological devices and data analysis but also because their citizens control their information. We need local leaders to implement innovative technology applications that give citizens the confidence to safely access what smart cities' offer.
- General Data Protection Regulation. In May 2018, the European Union approved the data protection regulation, the first set of laws and measures to control the collection, storage and use of European citizens’ data. This regulation puts individuals' rights at the center to control the data and the will over their information's privacy. Likewise, this regulatory framework offers companies tools and guidelines for collecting and using data, guaranteeing competition conditions. This regulation has become a world example of personal data protection regulation.
- Sustainable Cities- Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). This blog is led by the Housing and Urban Development Division (HUD) of the Inter-American Development Bank. They promote reflections and conversations around strategies to improve sustainability and quality of life in the cities of Latin America and the Caribbean. This blog also shares courses, publications and an open database for passionate about designing and implementing inclusive and sustainable smart cities.
- Smart City Live. On November 17 and 18, 2020, this event brought together hundreds of global leaders to talk about transforming cities towards smart city models beyond the impact left by the COVID-19 pandemic. This event ended with the 2020 World Smart Cities Awards, highlighting the best innovation and urban planning strategies. With the proposed MES Plans — Sustainable Business Mobility Plans, the Metropolitan Area of the Aburrá Valley obtained the nomination in the mobility category, together with two companies: Okeenea (France) and Pantoniuminc (Canada). Although the latter won the award, the Metropolitan Area’s participation in this contest is a global recognition of its efforts to achieve smart cities’ sustainable models. You can access the videos and resources resulting from the event here.