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Eindhoven wants to become a smart society. But how does that work? What’s going on in a society like that? Are there any good examples to learn from? DataStudio Eindhoven explores the transition a city has to go through to actually become such a smart society. Each week, we present a new contribution on E52. This week: Data for the Community. Read all the articles here.

Linnet Taylor is researcher of data practices in the public sphere at the University of Tilburg. She looks at how people are represented by digital data and at mechanisms of economic and social inclusion and exclusion through data. She is doing this research all over the world in smart cities, living labs and in the public sphere.

Thursday, April 20th, she will be speaking about the development of ethical data practices in cities. This in the context of the series of lectures “A City As Smart As Its Citizens”, in the library of Eindhoven.

(Photo: Vodafone Institute)

“The future has already started, but it hasn’t yet been evenly distributed.”William Gibson,

Linnet Taylor: “Privacy is becoming a misleading idea. As an organisation, it is easy to  stick to the privacy laws when at the same time you hardly respect people’s privacy rights. The privacy legislation is not yet suitable to regulate the possibilities of big data with. The privacy law is making statements about what van be done with so-called personal data. That means name, address, phone number, that sort of things. Those are important information coordinates, but it’s not data that says something about how a person is, what moves him or her, how he or she is doing. Big data does have that sort of information: Where do you park your car and for how long? What kind of things do you purchase? What do you eat? A lot can be said about your mental state by looking at your online browsing activities. All those sort of things can be read in big data through which your behaviour and personality can be very precisely typified. But the privacy law is hardly giving any rules on what can and can’t be done with that type of information.

At this point it is mainly companies that are getting the most advantages out of the information that can be obtained from big data. Do you know that quote by William Gibson: “The future has already started, but it hasn’t yet been evenly distributed.”

That exactly applies to the benefits of big data. A central question in my work is how the benefits of the accessibility to big data can be fairly shared.”



What do citizens get for their data?
“Look at the way smart cities are developed: to stimulate innovation, cities often conclude public-private partnerships, with which the so-called living labs are set up. This happens everywhere in Europe. Companies get access to all kinds of public data there, often with quite legitimate objectives: promoting safety, a more efficient waste management, better urban mobility. Efficiency and money saving are powerful arguments for the living lab experiments. The cities get cheaper, more efficient services and pay for that with public data.

But there is still too little control and a lack of informed debate about the other side of this coin. How can citizens gain control themselves about their own data? Publishing living lab data as open data like Eindhoven does promote transparency, but it is not a solution. Data means something else in the hands of companies than in the hands of individuals. If the published open data mainly enables companies to make money with it, then what is the benefit for the citizen.”

An alternative for trust
“The municipality should act in the interest of the community. That’s what a municipality is for. For that a municipality needs a long term vision. But there isn’t long term vision around big data yet. Therefore, it is often politically decided to not regulate big data sphere just yet. I think that’s not right. To me it looks too much like the model of regulation of the financial sector.  “We don’t understand what derivatives are, so let’s not regulate it.”

Also in the sphere of big data there are aspects that we don’t need to speculate about: large profits are being made with it, which currently don’t go to the community. When an important national public service like the NS (although it’s no state company, the state is the sole shareholder) wants to see the data it generates itself with OV chip card, it has to buy that data from Translink, the company that manages OV chip card. These sort of situations should really be prevented.

A general principle should be that also in smart cities it isn’t necessary for citizens to protect themselves from the data practices of companies or authorities. It shouldn’t be necessary that citizens have to install special privacy protection tools on their phones.

In the debate, too many people ask about the citizen’s ‘trust’ in the government. I don’t think that’s fair. Why do they act like it is necessary to create trust in a sector that isn’t regulated? We only have very few examples of well functioning self-regulation in the private sector.”

Ethical ecosystem
“An ethical ecosystem has emerged around climate change, where decisions were made at every scale and principles have been developed. Something like that should arise around big data. Due to climate change, we are beyond the stage where people can say: “It’s cold today. So that global warming isn’t that serious.” You do still see this at big data. “ I have nothing to hide and I don’t notice any disadvantages,  so that profiling is probably not that bad.”

The development of such an ecosystem with climate change has definitely lasted for thirty years. It should be faster with big data. We have functioning examples now. At this moment we’re not yet drowning in the data problems, so this is a good time.

Cities give a very appropriate context to initiate this conversation. On the scale of the city, data streams can be made visible and citizens can directly experience what the effects of smart technologies and profiling can be. Eindhoven and Amsterdam are making good progress for that matter: they insist on rules and principles for data collection in the public space. Amsterdam will soon launch a register for sensors. When a company installs a sensor somewhere to measure customer data, they will soon be asked to publish that sensor in a public register. That way data streams can become visible for all the residents of Amsterdam, so they know where they stand. That way big data can become the topic of democratic debate in a healthy way.”