Report: UK citizens suspicious of privacy implication of smart cities

News by Max Metzger

Smart cities are viewed with mistrust by much of the UK public, according to a survey from Broadband Genie

The British public are wary of smart cities according to a new survey, conducted by Broadband Genie.

Drawn from a sample of 2030 British citizens, the survey showed a marked suspicion of smart cities in British societies. A marked majority, 67 percent, of survey respondents thought that smart cities were a bad use of public money.

Respondents showed an even greater hostility towards the security and privacy implications that a smart city might come with. Sixty-nine percent of respondents registered concern that the massive amounts of  personal data that fuel the running of a smart city concerned them.

It may surprise the UK public to know that many such schemes are underway and, indeed, completed. Various pieces of smart city technology underpin the daily running of many cities around the United Kingdom and the UK government, like so many governments around the world, seems keen on expanding these projects.

Despite the public's suspicions, only 10 percent of the respondents knew about the UK's current smart city initiatives.

The low level of awareness about smart cities drawn out in the survey, may go on to explain the first two results. Matt Powell, editor for Broadband Genie told SC Media UK that in regards to people's suspicions, “lack of knowledge would certainly explain some of the hostility.”

But, he added “we would attribute much of it to a lack of trust when it comes to securing and using private data. There is a growing awareness of just how much information can be gathered about our daily lives, and how it could be used to restrict our freedom and invade our privacy. What we see is that a vast majority do not have any faith in the ability of private or public organisations to store and use this data in a safe or responsible manner.”

There are great gains to be had when it comes to smart cities, added Powell. But when it comes to winning over the public “councils face two big problems. First, they must justify the investment at a time when social and health services are struggling. If smart cities technology is cost effective this needs to be communicated. Second, they must reassure the public that their privacy is not at risk and the data is not being misused.”

Policies enacted in the name of security or efficiency have been abused before. Law enforcement were recently criticised for using the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to spy on journalists working for UK newspapers.

This can even, on occasion, be by design. Broadband Genie's research cites plans by the Chinese government to develop a ‘social credit system' by 2020, wherein Chinese citizens are rated according to information collected online. Low scores may result in the denial of certain benefits to those citizens who don't gain enough commercial, social or legal “credit”.

Javvad Malik, security advocate at AlienVault told SC that sceptics may have a point: “Smart cities sound like a great idea in theory. There are undoubtedly many benefits of automation and smart capabilities. However, currently, nothing gives confidence that security is thought-out or implemented as part of the smart cities.

While all new technology has a maturation period, smart technology “is still in its infancy when it comes to security and rolling out these technologies on a large scale across cities can have potentially disastrous impact on the security and privacy of citizens.”

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