Data Collection For A Smarter London : Yay Or Nay?

by Valentina Cipriani


A third of Londoners believe that collecting personal data to improve public services is a bad idea, a recent poll has found.

In a YouGov survey commissioned by the Smart London Board, the public opinion split between a third who sees data sharing with the purpose of building a smarter city as positive, a third who sees it as negative and a third who is not sure.

According to the Mayor of London website, “a ‘Smarter London’ uses data and technology together for the good growth of our city”.

London smart city news (Val)
Graph by Valentina Cipriani // Data from the London DataStore

Following the survey’s results, London’s chief digital officer Theo Blackwell wrote on his blog that “more groundwork needs to be laid by organisations who are using or sharing data.”

Professor Andrew Hudson-Smith, chair in digital urban systems at University College London, says that more transparency on data collection practices is needed.

“There is still too much data collection that is hidden in terms and conditions or simply done covertly. So there are privacy issues, but as people become aware of the value of their data it will become a new commodity”

54 per cent of the 1,097 respondents to the poll said they were unaware that sensors collect data on the physical environment.

Professor Hudson-Smith says that the public should have access to more information.

“Sensors collect data on everything from air pollution, temperature, noise and light levels through to the speed of traffic or number of seats available on a bus. Arguably a new systems of signage is required, similar to CCTV but referring to data collection.”

Charity Privacy International campaigns for city planners to find ways to improve cities without infringing people’s right to privacy.

Privacy International research officer Eva Blum-Dumontet says that smart cities projects  need to make it clear what the purpose of data collection is and how they are going to make people’s lives better.

In some cases, data are simply sold for advertising, and then the revenue is used to fund smart cities projects. “When we start collecting data, what are we using them for? There is a question of who the city is supposed to be smart for and what smart even means.”

Featured Image by Esan Swan

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