On Smart Cities: The Benefits and Concerns We Should Be Talking About

Our phones are smarter. Cars are getting smarter too. Even homes are even more interactive than they used to be. There is no reason why our cities should not be smarter in the grand scheme of things. There are strides in that direction already, and there is the promise of many more to come.

What are Smart Cities?

The smart city initiative aims to make our lives better by leveraging technology to change how we interact with our cities and the immediate environment. Smart cities implement a series of technology-backed protocols that are set to make processes faster and more efficient while raising the standard of living at the same time.

All around the world, smart cities are starting to make the news in different ways. While some cities are ahead in terms of smartness, almost every major city is looking at how best to implement smart systems.

The best part of this is that the smart city initiative is not a mere buzzword. It is, instead, targeted at solving real-life problems with technology. Some examples of that include, but is not limited to:

Waste Management – Seoul

Seoul in South Korea is one of the world’s major cities, and for many reasons than one. Such a location is bound to attract many people, foot traffic, and an influx of population. That leaves the city with a solid waste problem with no seeming end in sight.

This calls for better waste management, which they achieved with smart bin solutions all around the city.

These bins are programmed to automatically compact the waste inside them to have room to take more.

They are also connected to a central grid that informs waste collectors of which bins are in a higher need of emptying. That way, these collectors can tweak their runs for better efficiency too. 

Missing Persons Tracking – Mumbai

Facial recognition tech has been deployed in many cities – and it has even been banned in some other areas.

Places like Mumbai will be glad for the implementation that has helped them locate many missing persons and record time. More than 3000 missing kids were found and reunited with their loved ones in less than one week. 

That is an alarming number of cases that would have been left unsolved or cracked slowly without such smart solutions in place.

Personal and Business Planning – Singapore

Singapore is becoming a choice location for more people in the world. The country has created many favorable policies and a superior standard of living, so that should be expected.

As more people join, though, the population density increases, and resources are under intense pressure.

With the Smart Nation Vision tech, the country maintains a better view of cities and towns. This system collects everything from housing data to traffic information. This data is made available via open source to even the citizens.

Besides helping the citizens make better plans, businesses can better cater to their customers. That, and the country gets to plan road networks, housing, and such other amenities to meet the needs of a more significant population base. 

These are just some of the smart cities being built out there. Other notable mentions on the list are New York, London, Tokyo, Oslo, and California.

The Privacy Concerns around Smart Cities

As great as smart cities are, they rely heavily on data to make things work.

Some of that data is not personally-identifying, so there is no problem there. For example, the trash bins over in Seoul do not need to know who is dumping trash in them or where they live. Other smart city initiatives are more intrusive, though.

For example, Amsterdam’s open database uses IoT enabled devices to collect data from residents living in a 3700-meter square space. It is estimated that some 12,000 datasets are being gathered here – and this data is made available to the public. 

The most overlooked form of smart city initiative is the rollout of free and public Wi-Fi networks. They make life easier for city residents when they are in public spaces and set the tone for more connectivity. 

Without using solutions like a VPN app for privacy, connecting to such networks will leave the user at risk of being hacked and scammed online.

That, and we have not talked about the many ills of the facial recognition system, causing controversies around the globe.

As much as smart cities will do great for us, we should not overlook the privacy concerns. Otherwise, we might just be creating a system for threat actors to boost their businesses further. 

The Future of Smart Cities

No matter how much growth every current smart city has recorded, we are still in the baby stages of development. 

A lot can be done in this niche, and more technological advancement will show that out. Before that time, though, moves to counter the dangers which smart cities drag in should be implemented.

Once everything goes digital, it becomes easier for hackers and scammers to hold an entire city to ransom. Digging deeper, the consumer data collected to make these cities more responsive for personal dwellers could fall into the wrong hands. Without proper safeguards in place, that is a massive hack waiting to happen at any point.

Finally, the place of consent should not be overlooked.

Even if there were no other problems, users need to have fully consented to have their data used to better the city. After all, what use is creating something better for people when you would have to invade their privacy and infringe on their rights to do so?

These are the discussions we need to have. 

Stakeholders in the industry need to come together and discuss a tangible way forward. At the same time, regulators in the tech industry should start learning what this is all about. That way, they have a better hang on things and can protect the dwellers’ interests while also giving innovators enough room to bring sustainable changes.


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