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In data privacy we trust: Solving the connected cities conundrum

Call it the connected cities conundrum: Data is the very element that will make the promise of smart cities a reality, while at the same time curtail cities from being truly smart and connected. This was the overriding theme of the recent Connected Cities Privacy Summit held in Washington, D.C.

The event didn’t garner much media attention, which isn’t surprising. After all, the subject of data privacy isn’t exactly a click generator. But it’s an issue to be faced head-on and solved to the satisfaction of multiple stakeholders involved in the flourishing smart cities movement. More critically, it needs to be resolved for those concerned that their privacy will be compromised in the always-on digital age.

Specifically, that’s you and me. Smart cities need our consent, participation and trust in order to function.

Responsible data sharing means value-driven insights

Smart cities at their core consist of a group of parties that come together to share data responsibly for value-driven insights for everyone involved. The Future of Privacy Forum has developed an excellent interactive infographic that identifies the primary privacy and security concerns that smart cities raise, while also highlighting how these cities can offer cleaner, faster, safer, more efficient and sustainable environments.

Without the responsible sharing of data, true connected cities — such as those that deliver the much-anticipated economic and social gains promised for years — will only flounder, subverted by the justified concerns of privacy activists, legislators and citizens. That’s a conflict in which Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs experiment in Toronto is currently experiencing. The ACLU has also been on the forefront of vocalizing personal privacy and community security risks related to connected cities.

But how to ensure that security and privacy are not sacrificed for the sake of convenience and opportunistic ecommerce ventures?

Managing privacy around trust

The first step toward overcoming this fear is by earning trust and managing privacy around that trust. Citizens, activists and legislators need to trust that personal information and consumer behavior remains anonymized, private and secure. It’s incumbent upon the data providers in these connected communities to ensure that trust.

Failing that, citizens will be hesitant to opt in, and there can be no connected city unless large numbers of them do opt in. When more consumers participate, the more learning, intelligence and contextual understanding cities can gather.

A major challenge in a connected city is that there are so many components and players across industries and municipalities that need to grow as connected communities by linking with other ecosystems, such as connected cars and smart homes.

Enhanced emergency services

Let’s use an example of what can happen in a connected city when a telematics-enhanced vehicle is involved in a collision. The automobile manufacturer’s core data, such as the vehicle’s location, can provide information on the vehicle’s speed, airbag deployment status and the driver’s emergency contact information, which is instantly transmitted to the city. This can then dispatch information to the nearest hospital, body shop and insurance company. The hospitals can begin preparing with possible preapproved medical data on the injured drivers, passengers and bystanders.

The aggregated insights and intelligence provide even greater value:

  • City, state and federal governments can determine future infrastructure investments.
  • The vehicle manufacturer can make decisions on future safety enhancements and telematics services.
  • The insurance provider obtains historical insights for policy quotations.
  • The body shop gets detailed analysis on the type of damage particular vehicles incur.
  • Hospitals can fine-tune emergency services and resource planning.

The colossal volume of all types of data being transmitted, collected and stored only adds to the challenge by orders of magnitude. That brings up a variety of questions, such as who owns the data and where it’s going.

Controlling the data requires solid judgment

Telecom carriers are best suited to facilitate the data exchange and brokerage environment, but they need to offer an environment for these connected communities in which data providers can control their data and the data that they are stewards for. They also need to be able to define who can have access to that data and how it can be combined with other data.

A mechanism then needs to be put in place that tracks where that the data is going. This will promote a higher level of trust and confidence by all the players — particularly consumers — on the destination and purpose of the data’s use.

In addition, the controls need to include provisions regarding how long the data will live with specific entities. For example, when you buy a telematics-enabled car, you will have the option to provide private information that will only be released at a point of emergency, intended only for hospital use for a specific purpose and amount of time; and then it will disappear. Having the ability to define who can see data and how long that data will exist is an essential component of managing privacy and trust.

All of this can be possible if these connected communities are managed in a secure multi-cloud or hybrid cloud data architecture, which enables data providers to:

  • Share specific assets and define specific data-sharing rules.
  • Precisely define which users can see their data throughout the data lifecycle.
  • Track data usage across the data lifecycle, including the data’s origin, where it is used and how it changes over time.

When all of this happens, the connected cities conundrum will be solved.

All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.

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