- The growth of smart cities will depend on data governance, and many cities are finding resistance to smart initiatives because of poor data management plans, according to a new report from consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).
- The report outlines a "seven layer model" to data management: categories, consent, collection, anonymization, storage, access and monetization. Public and private firms that work with publicly-collected data as part of a smart initiative need to address all seven to ensure public buy-in.
- A key part of the model is designing a plan that "offers individuals an easy way to understand who will do what with their data, along with clear benefits to them." That, as well as anonymization and secure storage, can help assure residents they will be protected.
The vast networks of sensors, monitors and data collection tools that form the bedrock of a smart city can be off-putting for residents. Recent controversies over facial recognition technology — which has been banned in cities like San Francisco, Oakland, CA and Somerville, MA — show the limits of what the public will tolerate without regulations.
That could be a problem as cities seek more robust data that spans multiple projects and areas, instead of isolated technology. For example, the report notes, that has been a particular problem for Toronto's partnership with Sidewalk Labs as it develops the Quayside smart city test site.
The 12-acre development is meant to be a showcase for advanced technology and design, like mass timber buildings and dynamic street design that will accommodate active transportation. But it’s been dogged by concerns about what will happen to data collected on site; critics slammed a "vague" master plan that did not specify how data would be protected and polls have shown public support is decidedly mixed.
Just last week, the Alphabet-backed company filed an appendix to its plan saying it would not sell personal data or use it for advertising.
"Top-notch data governance and management is not just a good idea for smart city projects. It may be the critical difference between an initiative that wins stakeholder support, and one that becomes mired in lawsuits and controversy," the PwC report says.
It points out that Toronto has implemented one successful strategy by assigning the protection of citizen rights to a "trusted, nonpartisan, senior city official," in this case the city clerk. That, the report says, can ensure the governance strategy is implemented properly to protect privacy and give the public confidence their data is safe. More cities will need similar strategies if they want smart initiatives to be successful.