Smart Cities: Your Future… But What About Your Privacy?

Smart Cities

The Hypothetical

It’s the year 2050, and 30 year old John Smith is about to be awoken by his alarm on his smart-phone. But this alarm is different, because not only will it wake up John, but it will wake up the other devices that John uses throughout the course of his morning. First off, his alarm is synced with his coffee pot. When John steps out of the shower after waking up, he immediately smells his favorite dark roast brewing. Coffee isn’t it however, his mirror on top of his chested drawers is blinking the snow icon, it’s 15 degrees (Fahrenheit) outside, and the mirror has suggested attire based on this. While getting dressed, John’s mirror has synced with the calendar on his phone, and is giving him a briefing on the day’s events, reminding him of names he needs to know, and topics to stay away from throughout his meetings during the day. It’s nearing time to leave for work, but not before the morning news has been delivered.

John sits down with his freshly brewed coffee and turns on the TV. The TV has received data from all social channels across John’s network and makes the decision to show John sports news and highlights of the games he missed last night, as he happens to be a huge basketball fan. The TV automatically turns off, which slightly angers John until he remembers he gave his phone permission to control the devices in his house that could cause a distraction from his priorities. Nothing is more important than work, after all.

10 minutes before John needs to leave, his phone has silently communicated to his self-driving car. The message is that since it’s below freezing outside, the car should be warm and toasty for the morning commute. After entering his vehicle, the vehicle goes into autopilot, en route to his workplace. Remember the cold? John’s commute is about 15 minutes, which is ample time for his high efficiency heater to heat his corner office to 73 degrees, at his phone’s direction. The car pulls into his spot and Alexa integration asks if he needs anything before powering off. After powering off, John takes a brisk stroll into his building, where his warm office (and possibly an additional warm up of coffee) await him.

Smart Cities & User Data
The Good, Bad, and Ugly

The hypothetical story above may very well be reality in 30 years time. In John’s example, all these interactions take place in first hour or two of his morning. A high efficiency lifestyle will skyrocket progressive tech to unprecedented levels. This however, comes at a hefty price…

Think about the amount of data surrounding your life. Seemingly simple things like how you take your coffee in the morning, your favorite sports and teams, commonly listened to radio stations, etc all add up to a massive amount of user data. For most personal data, privacy is of little concern. Who cares if you prefer one brand to another, favorite flavor of ice cream, etc. Personal data that can be derived from the choices you make in your day to day lives is where the worry lies. Political affiliations, online purchases, banking information, browser histories, and more can all have an adverse effect on your life. It’s very difficult to take an unbiased stand when derivations are constantly being calculated about you. Negative inferences about someone whether true or not can harm a person’s career pathway as well.

Let’s use Facebook as an example. Have you ever wondered how Facebook manages to suggest friends for you of people you haven’t seen, talked with, or thought about for years? When you sign up for Facebook, you give them access to every piece of information on your computer. Facebook crawls your contacts (phone, email, skype, etc), your email inboxes and outboxes, browser history, and every file of your drive. This data is then used to suggest places, events, people, and advertisements based on your interests. All of this data is compiled with the information you put for the public on your profile. This data is then plugged into formulas in their algorithms and returns links customized to your interests.

Facebook was ahead of its time in this regards. As a result of collecting your information, Facebook is able to know you and make astonishingly accurate assumptions about your friends, network, and life. This will serve as the model for any and all devices in the future that wish to enter the “smart” realm. The coffee pot will know it’s coffee time. Your heating and cooling units will know when it’s time to power up. Everything will be connected and reliant on each other to make the right decisions.

Smart Cities Adwords
Who Else Benefits From This Data?

All of user data needs to be stored somewhere. Most likely, user data will be stored on the device itself as well as backed up to the cloud. With all these devices connected through a network and taking your information and storing it, you become a target for more ads. This is problematic. Advertisements seen on a day to day basis has experienced a colossal increase over the last 20 years. Think about it, advertisements are everywhere. You cant open minesweeper on Windows 10 without seeing full screen movie adverts. Email, Youtube videos, websites, news, tv, and literally everything else is riddled with spammy ads. Advertisements have started to control our lives. As a result of the data flow, expect the advertisement industry to increase prominence in your life.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? On paper, perhaps. This new data generation in going to fuel efficiency and convenience above all else. Convenience comes at a cost, however.

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