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'Smart Cities' and Surveillance

The big city isn't such an anonymous place anymore.
June 30, 2019, 5am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Ben Green, author of The Smart Enough City: Putting Technology in Its Place to Reclaim Our Urban Future, writes to explain the many ways "smart city" technology is a torjan horse for new kinds of corporate surveillance.

The first example Green cites on this theme are the 1,700 LinkNYC kiosks installed around the city, providing provide public Wi-Fi, free domestic phone calls, and USB charging ports.

Yet the LinkNYC kiosks are not just a useful public service. They are owned and operated by CityBridge (a consortium of companies that includes investment and leadership from Sidewalk Labs — a subsidiary of Alphabet, the parent company of Google) and are outfitted with sensors and cameras that track the movements of everyone in their vicinity. Once you connect, the network will record your location every time you come within 150 feet of a kiosk.

So, according to Green, smart city technology is just as much, if not more, about expanding the collection of personal data by government and corporations than improving the experience of the city or delivering services that make the daily lives of citizens easier or more prosperous.

If the implications of these smart city technologies are understood correctly the social contract of the future includes smart city technologies functioning as "covert tools for increasing surveillance, corporate profits and, at worst, social control."

Green has prescriptions for these dystopian outcomes that don't involve an anti-technology movement or a return to the Bronze Age. Green cites the Array of Things project in Chicago as an example of the democratic deliberation that can serve as an antidote to corporate surveillance.

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Published on Thursday, June 27, 2019 in The New York Times
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