Do Smart Cities Pose Data Dangers? When Governments See Value In Data

Description: The Chicago Tribune published a great editorial this week about the rise of so-called “smart cities” and the promise and pitfalls of governments assembling ever-more detailed data spanning every moment of their citizens’ lives.


Date:May 14. 2016

As cities increasingly deploy automated license plate scanners and facial recognition systems tied to their police surveillance camera networks, they are amassing unprecedented documentaries of their citizens, mapping each individual person’s entire daily life from the moment they walk out their door in the morning until the moment they return that evening. Such data has breathtaking commercial value and companies across a myriad of industries would be willing to pay very large sums of money for access. Could a cash-strapped smart city decide that selling subscriptions to its surveillance data for marketing purposes would be a good way to generate revenue?   READ REST OF STORY

1.  Who should have access to the data that smart cities are collecting?

2.  Should cities be able to sell the data that they collect for a profit? If yes, who should get the money?


30 thoughts on “Do Smart Cities Pose Data Dangers? When Governments See Value In Data

  1. Tyson

    The access of person data can be a very slippery slope when it comes to who has access to the data. On a personal level, I believe that even governments should have as little access to such data due to the fact that it becomes so easy for them to take advantage of such knowledge. Recording data is an invasion of personal privacy, which is a founding principle of the free world. I believe that only that if it is under clear knowledge of an individual, is the only case where data should be collected. With the increase in technology, it has become harder and hard for people to maintain privacy. Cities should not be able to sell such data due to, as stated earlier, the constitutional breach of privacy it causes.

  2. Alan

    I think that there are certain aspects of data collection and analysis that could be very helpful. I personally really like it when I need to look for flights when I’m going on a vacation and google pushes ads that are more relevant for my searches. It helps me to know what some of my options are. I think that data collection should be giving consumers more value than what we are currently getting for it.

    I would like to see the consumer have more options and be given a greater amount of transparency if data collection is going to be done. I don’t think that it is right for companies to record our information for one purpose and then be able to sell it for something else. I would like to see data collection done where there is better communication from companies to the consumer and where that information is used to give the consumer a more meaningful experience and not just as a way for businesses to prosper.

  3. Yifan Han

    nowadays, when the development of network increases, people notice their privacy decrease. the data from network usually is people privacy information, as i would personally think people have authority for their own data. the police and certain departments can have access to the data that smart cities are collecting when they have requirement to make sure the security for those cities. The government should carefully guard the data and it should not be sold to companies because individuals may be unwilling parties in the collection of data. The government is supposed to be run by the people and for the people and to sell an individual’s private information goes against the very foundations of government. also, cities cannot sell the data for a profit.

  4. Sherry Lu

    The rise of smart cities is the new efforts to cover the city with sensors and surveillance and upgrade to a more data-driven governance system. Although many smart cities depend on at least in part of the digital exhaust trial, such as tracking the aggregate movement patterns of mobile phone, many people cannot afford or do not have a smartphone with massive data plan. This will be the dark holes on the map in the neighborhood, in which areas with little or none data tracking information becomes less secure and safe, on the other hand areas with lots of data information become more focus and protected. In my opinion, I think the citizens, the police stations, and the governments should have access to the data that the smart cities are collecting. In which are only for the purpose of criminal cases/investigations and for legal enforcement. I also don’t think cities should be able to sell the data they collect for a profit, because it’s about citizens’ privacy and rights.

  5. Kirsti osowetski

    When dealing with sensitive personal information, the police and certain government officials should only have access to this kind of information. They are using this information to find out highly personal stuff on people in the community and find out what they’re doing to monitor them and to keep the community safe. They should not be able to sell the data unless it would be benefiting the communities safety. They should only be selling this information if the person has been notified that they are selling this info and have been made aware that parts of their privacy will be invaded in the near future and have given permission to whoever is selling it.

  6. Bryce V

    As the world changes and technology vastly consumes more and more of our daily lives, it is very important as a society we know who, and exactly what data is being collected on each and every individual. As a person who believes in as little of big brother as possible, it is my belief that nobody should be able to record this involuntary information(Gov included), nevertheless let anybody have access to such information. This almost secretive type of recording of citizens is part of what is robbing each and every individual their right to privacy. If we were talking about each individual who is being recorded has signed up, and accepted themselves in to a consumer recording program, this would be a completely different topic. if people were able to access and look up everything that has been recorded about them, and had complete authority over who and where this information went, then I would have no problem with these cities being able to sell this information to whoever wanted to purchase it. But unfortunately this is not the case, and with technology continually growing our privacy is continually diminishing.

    George Orwell warned us!!!

  7. Leah Kling

    The information collected by smart cities should be used only by city and government officials to help increase the efficiency and effectiveness of government run programs so as to save taxpayers money. However, with the increase of surveillance also comes an increased risk of misusing the information especially in non-democratic countries, thus international legislation could be useful in regulating mass surveillance. The government should carefully guard the data and it should not be sold to companies because individuals may be unwilling parties in the collection of data. The government is supposed to be run by the people and for the people and to sell an individual’s private information goes against the very foundations of government. Although, the question whether the government should be collecting the data or not should also be asked; by interacting in a public domain, individuals must understand that other people may be watching and should also recognize there is a risk of being profiled. However, the massive reach of government surveillance may make it so that individuals are unable to opt out of being profiled. A potential solution would be for the government to require permission from individuals so as to create a fair and transparent system.

  8. Sandra Kang

    With the rapid improvement of technology, users see a decrease of their privacy. Technology such as smartphones are able to collect information about their users without the knowledge of its user’s knowledge. It becomes more and more difficult for users to control the information that is being shared and collected with businesses of the world. It also becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish whether the data collected is private or public and who has the right to this data once it is collected. A smart city like Chicago not only gathers private information of the city’s residents to integrate them into the modern city but shares this information with neighboring cities and business groups. People whose information has be collected should be able to have access of the information that is taken from them, and have prior knowledge of the type of information that will be collected from them and where they are going to be used. I believe that the only people that have access to this information is the residents, the city, and the government; unless the resident gives permission to the city to give this information out. I believe that the city should not be selling these information for the profit unless they have alerted the person and they have given permission as I would personally feel that my privacy has been invaded.

  9. Debbie Payne

    With a large percentage of the world’s population continuously being “connected”, it is not surprising that there is a rise in smart cities. The data that the smart cities are collecting can be very useful for all levels of government and legal officials; therefore, they should be allowed access anytime, anywhere. If individuals conduct themselves as expected, by the governmental and legal systems, then the fact that those high-ranking officials have access to the data of all citizens should not be an issue.

    The example of the city that requires residents, who work from home, to register as a small business and, in turn, cross-references their list with the government to ensure that the proper reporting requirements are being followed, seems logical to me. However, because registration is not an option and the fact that those that do not register face hefty fines and possibly other penalties, I feel that it is wrong that the city uses the information as a marketing tool. The individuals are required to provide their information in order for the city to assess appropriate taxes and necessary fees, so the information should be used for just that and nothing else. The idea of smart cities collecting data and then selling to “outsiders” should not even be entertained, not only for the ethical aspect, but it also goes against FOIP.

  10. Cecile

    Smart phones technologies has rapidly developed in recent years. As more and more people have access to the internet and social media, it is not possible to have full protection on all of our personal data. Most of the time, basic personal data like names, e-mail, phone numbers are very common data that leaks out onto the internet daily, however I think privacy information like identification documents should have a higher protection and it is not likely anyone will just expose their identity on the internet. In my opinion, I think government, hospitals, polices or other government faculties could have access to our private data for law enforcement. Cities should not have the right to sell our data for profit as it is unethical and illegal. Privacy information represents one’s unique being and should not be put in business.

  11. Shiqi Wang

    Since all of the data come from the users of smart devices, it is impossible and illegal for an individual has property to use the data. From the context, we can see that “Such data has breathtaking commercial value and companies across a myriad of industries would be willing to pay very large sums of money for access”.

    Cities shouldn’t be able to sell the data that they collect for a profit. I believe that there is a time and place for free data and free applications but they must coexist with applications and information that are protected by copyright laws and sold commercially. It is those commercial products that in part allow the free versions to come to market. While businesses and other private organizations can make more information public, we believe that government has a critical role in unleashing the economic potential of open data. Across all levels of government in all regions of the world, millions of individual data records are collected, stored, and analyzed. From tax returns and unemployment claims to hospital reimbursements and energy use, much of this information can be made available electronically and readily shared, enabling third parties to create innovative products and services. 

  12. Anji Sanusi

    With the rapid improvement in technology, it is becoming difficult for certain informations to stay private. Everyday individuals document their lifestyles using various types of social media, making it difficult to now differentiate between what is private and what is not. information regarding an individual everyday life should only be available to the government, hospitals, police and so on. Selling these informations to businesses should not be allowed because now I would think this could be a privacy issue.
    Citizens trust the Government to have their best interest at heart but what would happen once people start to find out that the government who were meant to keep their information and use them when need be, are selling them out just to make money? The government should know to be careful with such informations especially now that it is a lot easier to steal identities or defraud people.

  13. Jackson Tiefenbach

    It’s difficult to say exactly who should have the right to this information once these systems become integrated into modern cities. City planners obviously should be, in the interest of making these “smart cities” as well designed as possible. Law enforcement is a bit more of a difficult situation, how much exactly are we comfortable with them knowing, and at what point is technology creating a police state? Of course, we would also want to limit access to this information due to the fact that the more people that have access, the higher chance of a leak.

    I don’t believe the cities should sell the information to advertisers. The idea of all of the physical data about the city being accessed to major corporations is not only weird and off putting in a science-fiction sense, but I also don’t believe it would improve the image of the city, or the quality of life of the people who live there. I feel like the city would not be an enticing place for people to live, and there would be a decreased rate of people moving in.

  14. Zhiyao Guan

    Both the government and the police office should have access to the data that smart cities are collecting. The reason for this is that those specific working field do need those information to ensure the smooth progress of work.

    In my point of view, cities don’t have the privilege to sell the data in order to earn a profit. The data is to improve the living standard of people. At the same time, it helps the police officer to crack criminal cases. While using the data that smart cities collected, the main aim is to help citizens live a better life. It’s unethical if cities sell the data they gathered for profit. If they sell the information for commercial purposes, the harmonious of the city as a whole will be weaken. Meanwhile, there should be a unity of objective between the government and the police office. Therefore, there is no need to sell the information to the police office in order to make some money. Information holders should spare no effort helping the police officers solving the problems they met. Only in this way can the police officers work with high efficiency. Furthermore, it boosts the harmonious of the whole society. Those benefits can’t be measured by money.

  15. Karla Carcamo

    If cities are going to be collecting data from it’s citizens by implementing a smart city approach, I believe that the municipality should have the information and any governing official. Information used could help in shaping a more progressive and efficient city. I do not believe that it should sell the data collected for a profit since cities can generate revenue from it’s traditional sources and revenue generated from the selling of personal information should actually be illegal, in my opinion. It is really mind blowing that such an industry exists but of course we’ve all given consent to it by using social media. No one reads the fine print…and if we do, we forfeit the right to keeping our information private.

  16. Chanelle

    This information would be helpful for security reasons, and would help Police services, but once this is open to a group, there is a chance that it will just keep growing and soon more and more would have access to this information. It becomes difficult to decide if this data should be collected, and sold. After this city has this information, is it right to sell it? my opinion is absolutely not, that is invading privacy rights in so many ways and it is unethical for a city or organization to make a profit off this. one side of the issue, collecting this data may intrude on many peoples privacy rights. The world is becoming more and more reliant on technology and data, and forgetting about what can go wrong. If this information fell into the wrong hands, or there was an error, many lives would be affected and critical information could be leaked. Another problem would be that the information collected may represent more of the middle to upper class of people that can afford to be connected to the internet regularly and have smart phones and computers. After this city has this information, is it right to sell it? my opinion is absolutely not, that is invading privacy rights in so many ways and it is unethical for a city or organization to make a profit off this.

  17. Sadie R

    Personally i don’t think anyone other than authority figured should have access to our information collected on a daily basis. Although living in an extreme technological age, individuals of society should still be able to express privacy. Unfortunately during the current worlds state, every purchase, action, and movement can be government traced. In many cases this technology is crucial for entities like the police force when when dealing with/finding people of interest in a crime. I do believe this technology should be gathered, it is not illegal because most citizens are aware of that there actions can be traced. Where the line should be drawn is only gaining access to someones personal files when those files are NEEDED. Unlimited access to employees is web we run into issues involving misused information. There should be one pertain that controls who sees who’s files, and why those files need to be seen.
    Confidentiality is a strong aspect in many fields of work. Similar to a doctors office, they can not give out personal info to everyone. Patients are aware there info is recorded in their personal medical records and these records are only accessed when the patient returns to any medical facility. The amount of people who have access to these files is massive, all doctors anywhere can find health records on any who has entered an office, but NO records are brought up without a purpose.
    Using my previous example of medical files, they are just as confidential as personal government files. Health Care is a crown cooperation in canada so would selling medical files compare to selling government recorded info? yes. It is unethical to put a price on an individuals privacy. Privacy is a right not a cost. No matter what the info, a visa bill or a medical bill, no city should be turning its back on its citizens by selling their personal information for money. From tax dollars alone, the government makes enough money for the city.

  18. Hunter Ascroft

    It is my opinion that in this case the information acquired should only be used and accessed by the organization or company it was willingly given to. In not all cases the information is so willingly given but if the data is knowingly taken then even though it may seem unethical to some it is not illegal so the single party should be aloud to us the information collected. The only possible loop hole could potentially be the government or police for security reasons.
    By taking it the next step and selling this information that in some cases is not voluntarily given pushes the ethical limits. To profit off information that is not your own seems to border on not only a invasion of privacy but debatably plagiarism. Seeing that it is unethical it seems logical in my opinion to make it illegal but in many cases the selling of this information is not harmful to the person or their identity.
    With the case of small businesses and spam emails, this is more of a annoyance then a actual breach of privacy. In some instances the emails sent could benefit or be of interest to the recipient. Scenarios like this can be simply avoided by having a designated email account to use for junk mail and marketing ads but then the question is should that really need to be necessary?

  19. Evan

    The only way to opt out of digital society is to either limit as much as possible
    the amount of data that can be collected on you or hide your IP address and use
    the dark web, use cash or bitcoin for transactions.

    data is a grey zone of information known, data is ubiquitous and enormous yet
    no one rules the internet and anything connected to it is vulnerable to privacy
    invasion or abuse.

    some data in our daily lives in free willingly given, living in a society there is
    a social convention that a level of privacy is lost for the better good such as
    traffic lights, but that does not necessarily go for selling utility user information
    data. Use of data has benefits but the costs regarding privacy has always been the issue since its inception for public use. Canada and the U.S. I assume deal with data differently and its use, as the U.S. market is based on anything can be bought and sold, ethics are put aside.

  20. Kurtis Hawkins

    As digital information is gathered, collected and used by companies to enhance a consumer experience as well as increase sales with little major incidents. There is no reason why our physical location or shopping habits cannot be tracked and sold to corporations.

    However, this information does pose a safety risk to the public. As seen in low income and usually black neighborhoods in the USA, public monitoring can be abused by geographical and racial profiling, increased inmate capacity in jails with no effect on the overall crime rate. Unfortunately, the government ultimately has the control over the monitoring which is probably the more terrifying than any other industry acquiring the information.

  21. Narinder

    No one person or persons should have full access to this kind of recorded data. This data should have strict limitations to when and how it can be used such as an undergoing investigation. It would have to be justified and warranted to be able to sift through such personal information. Even though it could potentially be put forth to good use with the police, there needs to be strict and tight regulations to when it may be accessed. I believe many people would feel it would be an infringement upon their rights to be supervised constantly throughout the day and for agencies or corporations to be able to at any time access this information. It would be irresponsible for a city or a nation to make an organization so omnipotent with these recordings. For certain no businesses should have access to this information. There will be some if not many who believe that their data throughout the day belongs to them solely and is not ok for profiteering or to gain monetary compensation for selling such data. It all comes down to human and civil rights. I also understand that there are no real expectations of privacy in public areas such as parks or sidewalks; however I do believe that tracking of an individual without permission and allowing individuals to access this data may be a bit depraved.

  22. Yichao Jing

    In my opinion, to keep citizen’s privacy, government should let people who are trusted to have access to the data that smart cities are collecting. Citizen do not want to their privacy information sell or something else, so government should let citizen trust them by using people who can be trusted. Actually, I think cities should not be able to sell the data that they collect for a profit if citizen do want to because citizen do not want to receive some spam or telephone service. Cities can be able to sell the data that citizen give an offer to sell their information to make a profit. Even cities can sell the data for a profit, government should get the money, but they should give citizen some allowance to collect and sell their information. If government sell the data when citizen do not know their data are disclosed by others, citizen will feel uncomfortable. Because people who buy the data may send some spam to citizen’s email or send some virus when they have citizen’s privacy. Therefore, government should protect citizen’s privacy and keep the data safety.

  23. Lucille Black Rabbit

    Data is collected all over the world with all sorts of different input systems so even if we didn’t want any data collected on us we don’t have a choice really. With out input we wouldn’t have output then the world might as well stand still and become stale. The privacy issues are the issues that need to be outlined and have consequences if not followed. No matter how private an individual is there is data being collected on them with out their consent. This is how we find out what the next step in life is going to look like or how it is going to be accomplished. It is slowly starting to sound like a less democratic way of living where we have no say in what happens around us. But since data is going to be collected on everyone than we must be at least in control of who gets to see and use this data. For safety and security the police/government should be able to have access since they are there for our safety and well being but also they too should not ignore us when we have inquiry on the matters of what info/data they have on us.

  24. Danielle Anvik

    What information is Lethbridge collecting on me, and what privacy policies are in place? One sentence from this article jumped out at me: “If you disagree with the terms of service of a major social media platform you can simply elect not to use that platform.” If I don’t like the way Facebook or Instagram manages my information and protects my privacy, I can choose not to use it. However, if my city is collecting my data, and that is where I live and work, my options are limited.

    I would imagine most municipal information systems have been built over the years on top of old, unsecure systems. This reminds me of cities being constructed over old sewer systems, where the sewers still offer unrestricted access to the upper world. This also reminds me of the Y2K bug, where new code had been built over old code. Originally, every character was expensive, so dates were truncated causing 1987 to be recorded as simply 87. Not a problem, until 20th century-originated mortgages were being calculated after the turn of the century, and interest payments were now negative numbers. I worked for the BC provincial government in 1999, and we spent a lot of time going through all of our files to ensure there were no rogue date fields that would cause chaos when the ball dropped on New Year’s Eve.

  25. David Zhang

    Smartphones, smart cars, and now smart cities; it seems that you can put the word smart in front of any object and it will become an upgraded version of its original self. “Smarter” cities now have the capability to track and record our daily lives, from the moment we leave our home in the morning to time we step back into our homes at night. What’s your morning routine, what gym do you go to, your work locale, and the places you shop at are just some of the data tracked by smart cities that major corporations are itching the get their hands on. Who should have access to these valuable, and in most cases very individualized data? The ethical answers are a list of public services that are provided by our government such as the police force, firefighters, and public health services (hospitals). The city could sell access to these personal data to 3rd party organizations as well, under the condition that they won’t use these data with the intention of harming citizens. If smart cities data is bought for the purposes of improving targeted advertisement, it could even improve the lives of its citizens by providing them more information on things they are generally interested in. Not the mention that the city would gain another, probably very lucrative, revenue stream that will also contribute positively to the city as a whole. While it might be an uncomfortable notion that marketers will know you every move, in the long run, we will adapt and de-sensitize, because my guess is that practice of selling smart city data is already a reality.

  26. Amy Giesbrecht

    With the increase of technology and people documenting their every move knowingly through facebook, twitter, instagram, snapchat etc, protecting personal privacy is becoming harder as technology and social media has blurred the lines between what is acceptable to share and be exchanged. For security, the government, police, fire department, and hospital should have access to the data that smart cities are collecting. Sharing with them can improve legal and safety issues in cities. However selling this data to others for a profit should not be allowed as most people are unaware that this information is being taken from them and used in another manor than what is intended.
    We are also very much aware that most public areas such as schools, malls and hospitals have video surveillance, we know that we are being watched almost everywhere we go but most people believe that these are only intended for safety and security of us, the building and employees within, most people are unaware that these videos may be being sold to corporations which is unethical
    However, just as capitalists are not going to stop on the pursuit of profit, we are also not going to stop using new, innovative and exciting technology so if the information is available, someone is going to take it.
    Remember, Big Brother is always watching…and we are all the cause.

    Reply ↓

  27. Mitch

    Obviously this data collected from smart cities should be available to the Police, FBI, or whoever is a part of protecting the safety of the city. Nobody will deny that, but for the simple actions of a persons day-to-day life every single day being available to marketing companies, and whichever company that is willing to pay to access the information of a particular person to be available is excessive. However, with that being said, even without smart cities making this data available there is already excessive amounts of data on every person within that smart city that is available to these same prospective data buyers. The people living in these smart cities have nothing to gain from this data being available to purchase that is collected unknowingly about them from wherever it has been collected from. So on the flip side of this, if the people in these cities agree to have this data collected by their cities and then sold off to companies in exchange for lower taxes for them to live in the city then they can actually benefit from their data being sold off. These companies that buy data already will do so no matter what, but with no personal benefit for the people whom the data is about. If smart cities collect and sell the data and can use those profits and in turn reward their residents with lower expenses they can both benefit. Invasion of privacy? Yes, but our privacy is already invaded more than we know and many people really have nothing to hide. I don’t think it’s that crazy of an idea…

  28. Jiani Z

    With the increase of high technology, more and more data are collected for different usage. Protecting personal privacy is becoming harder than before, and data abusing becomes a serious problem nowadays. For security and emergency reason, I think the government and some security system like police office, fire department, and hospital should have access to the data that smart cities are collecting. Sharing data with these stations can help people build a safe living environment. Polices will be able to arrest criminals easily and accurately, and hospitals can provide faster treatments with the help of data.
    I do not think selling data to others for a profit should be allowed because data are usually contain some personal information like address, email, and family information. Selling them to some businesses may bother people if businesses use these data to solicit customers. For example, businesses may send emails to promote their products, which annoyed some people. Even badly, some people may use data to defraud. People may receive email like “log in some website and you will get money or you get a free product from somewhere”, and people with little alertness or curiosity may go to those websites so defrauder can get their money or information which is saved in computers.

  29. Matthew Sentes

    As technology and the ability to watch individuals in public advances, we are increasingly becoming more like the book “Nineteen Eight-Four” by George Orwell. The government in these smart cities are always watching citizens and their every move, from where they go at certain times of the day, to what they buy. There is very limited privacy to an individuals life now. This should not be the case. Yes, there should be surveillance cameras filming public areas as a deterrent to crime as well as an aid to help solve crime that happens. However, the access to that video should be limited to police services. It should also be deleted after a certain amount of time, that limit could lead to a very long discussion though. However, deleting the video will help to protect the citizens privacy a little more. Even though most people have nothing to object to, the selling of their everyday life to make a profit is not acceptable. If a city was that desperate for money, there are a lot of other ways to make a quick dollar that does not involve taking away your citizens privacy.
    As previously mentioned in another reply, what is the difference between collecting this detailed “marketing information” in person or through the buying of videos if citizens? It is more socially acceptable to collect this much information through watching and breaking down video of people when they may be unaware that they are even being watched, as opposed to a person following them around all day. Again, as mentioned in another reply, if this was done in person it would be referred to as stalking, but it is simply collecting data because it is done through video, even the basis remains the same.

  30. Nisali

    Only the Police service should have access to data like that. It should only be used to ensure citizen security. It is a little ridiculous the extent that some companies go to in order to obtain `marketing information`. They are essentially stalking someone in order to figure out what they do and what they like. If this was done in person, the person would get a restraining order. People have the right to their privacy and being followed and monitored for no reason is not okay.

    Cash strapped or not, if a city was to sell this information, they are fore fitting the privacy of their citizens without their consent. According to the UN Declaration of Human rights, privacy falls under this category and it is a part of human dignity and no one has the right to take that away.


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