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Will 'Smart Cities' Violate Our Privacy? (computerworld.com) 108

An anonymous reader quotes Computerworld's article on the implications of New York City's plan to blanket the city with "smart" kiosks offering ultrafast Wi-Fi. The existence of smart-city implementations like Intersection's LinkNYC means that New Yorkers won't actually need mobile contracts anymore. Most who would otherwise pay for them will no doubt continue to do so for the convenience. But those who could not afford a phone contract in the past will have ubiquitous fast connectivity in the future. This strongly erodes the digital divide within smart cities. A 2015 study conducted by New York City found that more than a quarter of city households had no internet connectivity at home, and more than half a million people didn't own their own computer...

Over the next 15 years, the city will go through the other two phases, where sensor data will be processed by artificial intelligence to gain unprecedented insights about traffic, environment and human behavior and eventually use it to intelligently re-direct traffic and shape other city functions... And as autonomous cars gradually roll out, New York will be well positioned to be one of the first cities to legalize them, because they'll be safer thanks to 5G, sensors and data from all those kiosks.

Intersection, a Google-backed startup, has already installed 1,000 of the kiosks in New York, and is planning to install 7,000 more. The sides of the kiosk have screens which show alerts and other public information -- as well as advertisements, which cover all the costs of the installations and even bring extra money into the city coffers.

New York's move "puts pressure on other U.S. cities to follow suit," the article also points out, adding that privacy policies "are negotiated agreements between the company and the city. So if a city wants to use those cameras and sensors for surveillance, it can."
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Will 'Smart Cities' Violate Our Privacy?

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  • Yes (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 30, 2017 @12:58AM (#54907167)

    Question answered. Move along now...

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Obviously you haven't been paying attention very long on Slashdot. Betteridge's Law of Headlines clearly states that the answer is no.

      • Re: Yes (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        No. We will all implicitly give permission. Or explicitly by the terms of use for our apartment, job, shop visit, city app, etc. No violation is possible when everything is permissible.

    • by tsa ( 15680 )

      Indeed. The rule is that articles with a question in the title answer this question with 'no,' but in this case a resounding 'YES' is in order. So the question should be: Is Our Privacy Safe in the Smart City?

    • No, the answer isn't to move along, but rather to move out of these privacy invading shit-holes.
    • overstating the obvious ... does slashdot live by advertising ? well then ....
  • by wisebabo ( 638845 ) on Sunday July 30, 2017 @01:00AM (#54907173) Journal

    Here's a Larry Niven novel (I haven't read it, unfortunately) in which the inhabitants are "sacrificing privacy - there are cameras (not routinely monitored) even in the private apartments - in exchange for security" (Wikipedia).

    Unfortunately, due to the vast amounts of data collected on us by myriad gadgets (smartphones, Alexa, cell phone towers, public cameras, private cameras with Geo tagged data on social media, credit card machines, ATMs... perhaps even smart parking meters!), it appears as if we've already sacrificed privacy. Have we gotten more security? Honestly, maybe, aren't crime rates supposed to be down?

    • by SirSlud ( 67381 )

      Well, yes, they are down.

    • by amiga3D ( 567632 )

      Petty crime yes. Organized crime? No, that's way the hell up.

      • Organized crime? No, that's way the hell up.


        Crime rates in the USA, per 100K population look to be less than half what they were in 1980 for the most part. And none of the crimes they track are "way the hell up". Or even "up".....

  • Duh.

    You want to know the information that's never abused, and never hacked? The _information you never gather._

  • by Anonymous Coward
  • The Special Law of Betteridge says that any headline that matches the regex "/(will|can).*reduce privacy/i" can be answered with "yes".

  • Not in Seattle... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Frosty Piss ( 770223 ) * on Sunday July 30, 2017 @01:53AM (#54907305)

    New York's move "puts pressure on other U.S. cities to follow suit," the article also points out.

    Does it? Of course, says the company pushing it. But not all cities will take the bait. Seattle citizens would probably have a fucking cow; when the city tried to install a mesh network downtown to enhance emergency response, the uproar resulted in all the installed equipment being taken out.

    • Re:Not in Seattle... (Score:4, Informative)

      by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Sunday July 30, 2017 @02:38AM (#54907427)

      Well, another factor is - anyone with an attention span longer than ten minutes remembers that we've heard this song before. Numerous cities - including Seattle, as you know - talked a big game a decade or so ago about building out ubiquitous cheap/free wifi. Some cities, like Philadelphia, actually started to roll it out... but it went south pretty quickly.

      I realize this new push has Google's backing - but they're no longer patient with throwing money at projects which don't turn a profit quickly. That also means that, if you see them sticking with this for more than a year or two, they're making money on it... which should scare any semi-intelligent New Yorker.

  • by lucaiaco ( 2652295 ) on Sunday July 30, 2017 @02:07AM (#54907351)
    I have seen several of these kiosks in Manhattan already. They are ugly, most of them in a state of disrepair, and more unresponsive than your grandpa's internet explorer. And I'm a talking about the ones in front of Penn Station. I cannot imagine the ones they will install in the Bronx, or in some other non-central location.

    If you want to be useful, just install free wifi repeaters (starting from the goddamn airports, please), like any other civilized city in Asia do.
    • If you want to be useful, just install free wifi repeaters (starting from the goddamn airports, please), like any other civilized city in Asia do.

      Like in Singapore where to use the Wifi you are required use the internet access you don't have to log on and register at a web site, then click the link in the email they send. Genius!

    • Intersection, a Google-backed startup, has already installed 1,000 of the kiosks in New York

      LinkNYC is already changing New York; two million people are now using the system

      So 2000 people are using each kiosk. I assume that crowd control is required, and I hate to think what the response time is like.

  • Has there ever been a city installed WiFi that didn't completely fail to work? I've tried a few. Not even airports can get it right. When a city, town, borough or municipality set out to provide public WiFi, they go on to demonstrate that they don't understand how to deploy RF services and that they don't understand how to maintain an internet service.

    • Yes plenty. Many cities in Norway and Sweden provide public WiFi that works flawlessly. I also never had any problems with implementations in Hong Kong or mainland China or those offered in many parts of central Europe.

      Also I basically live at Airports including one of the largest hubs in Europe, and frankly airport WiFi also works quite flawlessly in most places. The last time I had an issue with airport WiFi was at Teeside and that issue was they only offered 15min free (but that was the least of my probl

      • In recent years, airports in Heathrow, Frankfurt, Barcelona, Belgium, Singapore, Tokyo and Penang all sucked for WiFi internet access. At least in Europe I can get a PAYG SIM that works Europe wide,

        • Greetings from Amsterdam's free WiFi. There's an option for premium as well, but as Youtube is currently having no problem I don't know why I would want to.
          By the way Schipol Airport today is setting a new record for number of passengers processed. Good news is the WiFi is holding up, bad news is I had to get here 3 hours early due to the incredible strain on the checkin system. *sigh*.

          • I have no memory of Schipol's WiFi sucking, so it must be fine. I wish your packets swift passage.

            • More relevant will be next destination, Frankfurt. Hopefully my experience is better than yours :)

              • San Francisco, Chicago, Heathrow and Charles De Gaul are in my near future. In this instance, it's not a work trip so I may not care about WiFi.

                • Frankfurt was a bust. Frigging delayed flight. hahahahahaha WiFi is the least of that shithole's problems evidently. I remember having a positive opinion of Chicago, and Charles De Gaul. Heathrow on the other hand.... I actively avoid that airport when I can (also nothing to do with WiFi). Mind you WiFi does help too. I would tell you about the low opinion I have of Suvarnabhumi (Bangkok) where I am right now in an uncomfortable seat on the opposite side of the airport to my gate because they refuse to let

  • by bobstreo ( 1320787 ) on Sunday July 30, 2017 @02:21AM (#54907387)

    Until the city's AI for whatever reason, classifies your future crime as imminent, or worse, decides your continued existence is no longer useful to it.

    The good news, the city rewards it's faithful, it's worshipers.

  • Just a simple thought experiment tells you all you need to know. In scenario one, the sensors are all run by Google and Facebook, in scenario two they are run by the municipality and all the data is open. That's very crude and, in a mixed economy, the ownership is likely to be mixed too, but see below. However, the Roomba discussion provides some indicators about what will eventually happen to data that is in commercial hands.

    It's also worth noting that sensor networks and infrastructures are, to some extent rivalrous, in the economics sense. That is, they compete for physical placement, for bandwidth and (probably) for standards and protocols.

    There's questions of scope, governance and separation too. For example, I never go into Apple stores and that's a choice, but I may have to go into a hospital. I personally don't mind advertising beacons because I choose not to have a smart phone and don't receive their output. I don't want any of my data sold on, but have zero faith in GAFAM (Google, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft, as proxies for the usual suspects) not to do that.

    I think 'we' can do really good things with city data and wrote about it somewhat in 2009 [hughbarnard.org] but that was on the basis of municipal control, public health and ecological objectives. The current picture looks a lot more invasive and murkier.
    • by hord ( 5016115 )

      After a week the sensors will be "owned" by various multinationals in the Eastern Bloc.

      • by hughbar ( 579555 )
        Yes, you're probably right. If they're pollution sensors etc. it may not matter unless the hack disables them. If they're cameras and/or things connected to actuators of some kind, that's a different picture.
  • ... to "the city that never sleeps"

  • They already do (Score:5, Informative)

    by Rick Schumann ( 4662797 ) on Sunday July 30, 2017 @10:43AM (#54908557) Journal
    Friend, they already do violate our privacy. There are cameras at every intersection, and everywhere else (ATM cameras, security cameras, and so on). Your 'smartphone' has a highly sensitive GPS receiver in it, which (despite any settings of yours to the contrary) is on all the time, can pinpoint your location to within a few meters even deep inside a multi-floor building, and reports that position on demand (or all the time for all anyone knows). Even without GPS your position can be determined by triangulating from cell towers. Any WiFi that your phone connects to, even briefly, can be used to geolocate you. Unless you pay cash for everything walking around, your purchases not only pinpoint your location, they add to a list of your purchasing habits, from which your behavior can be predicted. If you live in a big urban city like New York and take a cab everywhere, your movements are tracked that way, too. There are microphones all over the place that are part of a gunshot detection/location system, and for all we know those are also used to listen in on people in public; leveraging your smartphone to listen in on you is a trivial task, too. Having free WiFi all over a city like New York, that enables anyone to have Internet access for free wherever they go in the city is just the final nail in the coffin of your privacy; you're now 'connected' everywhere you go, watched, and listened to in redundant ways. Not carrying a smartphone and paying for everything with cash isn't even enough and may just flag you as a potential criminal/extremist/terrorist/person of interest. Using the Internet at all these days, even with a VPN, still leaks all sorts of information about you, especially if you're so dumb as to use so-called 'social media', which EXISTS to collect information about you, ostensibly to sell you things, but also so governments can produce a profile/dossier of you -- just in case you're a terrorist. Using Tor is better and worse than a VPN because there are things you just can't do using Tor, and I'm certain it's like that on purpose. The only way you can have any modicum of privacy anymore is to live in the middle of nowhere, have a landline phone and no smartphone, stay off the Internet, and pay for everything you can with CASH, never use credit or plastic or even checks if you can help it, and stay away from urban centers as much as possible. Sadly doing all the above, in the current socio-political climate, will flag you to law enforcement as a potential criminal, extremist, or out-and-out terrorist, and you might well be specifically scrutinized because of it. If you're married and have kids, it's basically impossible to be 'off the grid' unless you're all on on the same page somehow -- and kids especially won't put up with being isolated and ostracized because their dad is a 'nutjob' who won't let then use Facebook or have a smartphone. Basically, until the current socio-political climate changes, you have damned little privacy of any kind, except in your own home, with the blinds shut and no electronics that could listen in on you -- and it's highly unlikely that any time in the near future that any of this is going to change. First people have to WANT it to change. Good luck with that.
  • A 2015 study conducted by New York City found that more than a quarter of city households had no internet connectivity at home, and more than half a million people didn't own their own computer...

    In the past few years, I've found more and more people who no longer touch their desktop computer at home. With their smartphone, they have no need for a desktop computer anymore. I'm curious how many of the half a million people mentioned here have smartphones, and how many are old people who are not interested

  • I think its too late. There are so many forms of surveillance that adding another really won't change things. At this point I think its better to lobby for strong laws to protect how the data is *used*. Trying to control what is collected is a lost cause .

  • Betteridge's Law of Headlines fails here.

  • the answer is "of course" since you are the product.

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