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Trust essential for smart city concept’s success, says Axis
Wed, 8th Feb 2023

Axis Communications, a provider of network video, has released a white paper to bring attention to the many benefits of the modern smart city that are being hampered by significant barriers to development. For example, research has suggested that 63% of people find the way connected devices collect data about people and their behaviours "creepy". "These very same people must be convinced of the benefits and assured of the safety of data collected in a smart city environment," says the paper. 

Improved waste reduction, better public transport services, and even lighting and heating efficiencies are some of the benefits of the smart city made possible through the utilisation of devices and sensors and the data they collect. 

Yet such optimisation of resources, Axis reasons, is only achievable when privacy impact assessments are carried out at the right time for them to be effective, and a reassured general public can more confidently understand the need to process and draw insights from collected data.

“The benefits of smart cities have long been recognised by all key stakeholders, but the greatest and most important stakeholders are wary of smart city authorities and technology providers not only collecting and holding data about them but connecting it with other data they already hold,” says James Willison, Founder of Unified Security, and the co-author of the whitepaper.

This process will require service providers to do everything they can to create an environment of inherent trust, strong privacy, and ethical behaviour by default. As a result, how smart city projects are planned needs to change, with privacy and data protection considered from the outset.

“Effective privacy and good ethics lead to greater trust from citizens, thus contributing to their overall happiness. Smart city authorities can demonstrate this element of trust, and showcase citizen happiness. We outline the key risks and best practices to achieve success," adds Sarb Sembhi, Chief Technology Officer of Virtually Informed and another co-author of the whitepaper. 

With trust playing a critical role in how people interact with their environment, smart city project planners must address how the use of data is communicated, ensuring complete transparency. The use of technology and analysis of data can only be successful when citizens trust the technology around them and can be sure of its purpose. This leads to important ethical considerations around collecting, analysing and processing information.

“To engender trust in a smart city, its data must never be collected or stored without good reason, and connections between data collected and personal identity made only when necessary. Building systems now based on this philosophy not only helps improve citizen trust, but it also theoretically makes the transition to potential new privacy rules easier,” notes Steven Kenny, Industry Liaison, Architecture and Engineering at Axis Communications. 

Trust must be earned not only by those constructing the broad systems that unite a smart city, but by those that provide the individual elements of a smart city's infrastructure. Vendors have a double duty in ensuring they work to reassure citizens and local governments. Both entities need to know that their privacy concerns are being met, and smart-city constructors require secure hardware that will last both physically and logically.

“Ethics, privacy, and trust must be the core tenets of any smart city project. These are the convincers that will bring citizens on board. Once the infrastructure is in place and the benefits of smart cities truly come to light, people may wonder how they ever managed without access to live data, without cleaner air and clearer streets, without the predictive models which offer them access to everything they need,” concludes Kenny.