The Emergence of Smart Cities and their Privacy Implications

From transportation to traffic management, smart city technology has the capability to change how people live and interact by reducing resource consumption, making the city more efficient and much more. Although this technology is still in its infancy stages of development, the push for smart city realization seems inevitable and it won’t be long before governments fully adopt these technologies into everyday aspects of city life.

Let’s look at some of the emerging smart city initiatives in the world and their benefits:

Smart Transportation

Inefficient transportation, heavy traffic, and reduced road safety and security are all problems that are rampant in big cities. The smart city technology helps to solve these issues through smart traffic lights with cameras and sensors situated in the cars. These technologies make it possible to monitor traffic flow, which shows in traffic lights, and is optimized to alleviate congestion during peak hours.

Smart energy

Energy-efficiency is another big challenge in major cities as the demand increases and the supply remains the same. Smart cities implement different IoT solutions to help in smart energy management. 

For instance, smart meters and smart grids make it possible for utility companies to evaluate power usage in real-time. This data can be used to predict periods of high and low consumption, which makes it easy to adjust energy distribution appropriately.

There is also the execution of renewable energy sources such as solar panels that reduce energy costs and minimize environmental footprint.

Privacy Concerns of Smart Cities

Despite the immense benefits that come with smart cities, there are privacy concerns that we need to be aware of. For smart cities to be effective, there is greater need for data collection and analysis. They, therefore, collect data from people, smart meters, cameras, phones, sensors, devices, and other relevant points. Security experts had been showing concerns regarding data collection in Alphabet’s project in Toronto.

Smart cities also have to be connected for information to flow where it is required. The different aspects that make cities smart also make them vulnerable.

All the information collected, including personal data and a person’s location could be immensely sensitive and valuable to thieves who may use it to rob a home, stalkers who may want to follow their victim’s every move, and even sexual predators who may be waiting for the right time to strike.

Since smart cities are highly connected, there is also the risk of data breaches by online crooks who are waiting to take advantage of the unsecured public Wi-Fi networks in cities to launch their attacks.

How to Stay Private

It goes without saying that data collection and analysis is paramount in a smart city setting. To avoid all the privacy concerns that arise from collecting huge amounts of data, it is important for smart city designers to take the necessary precautions to safeguard the privacy of their citizens.

Citizens need to understand that even if the government and corporations used the data collected correctly, there is still the risk of data breach. They should, therefore, look for ways to protect their privacy, especially when using public Wi-Fi’s. One of the best ways to reclaim anonymity and privacy online is by using a VPN to encrypt your data and protect your online footprint from prying eyes.

Courtesy of Chris Jones @ TurnOnVPN

Understanding the needs of homeowners and tenants

When it comes to understanding tenants needs, there is a huge gap between property managers’ perceptions and those of the residents.

That is according to a recent survey by US company Building Engines.

For example, 66% of building management teams communicate with tenants via phone, while only 4% of tenant employees plan to use this method in the future, according to the survey.

At Urbytus, we have been testing a prototype of Facebook integration, by means of which we allow residents to interact with a chatbot that gives them access to information of the community such as meeting records and electricity consumption. It also allows them to report issues without overloading the property manager’s inbox.

The main objective of using Facebook to communicate with users is that this is one of their most used social networks / apps. We realised that very few of them would go through the hassle of downloading a new app in order to communicate with property managers, service providers and with the community’s board.

Other communications channels currently under study include WhatsApp and even offline post-it notes.

Regarding the gap between property managers and tenants, the online publication Propmodo quotes Phil Mobley from Building Engines saying that “…real estate people have historically thought of their ‘customer’ as the single day-to-day contact person at each tenant, or maybe the lease signer. But the reality is that every person in the building is a customer, and building owners and managers are tasked with delivering a positive experience to all of them because tenants demand it for their employees. We need to do a better job helping them reach this audience.”

We have seen an increased interest by asset managers to better-communicate with residents in homeowners associations and also in commercial real estate. The future development of software in our niche should facilitate this process by collecting the right data and allowing users to interact in a seamless way.

Smart communication tools: leveraging on existing platforms

How many apps do you currently have in your smartphone? Of those, how many do you use on a daily basis?

One of the main issues with software for management of residential communities is the difficulty to engage all community users.

As powerful as a solution may be, it is always a challenge to get everyone involved in learning and using the software.

According to the latest Urbytus survey among community managers, the main issue affecting them is the amount of emails and phone calls that they receive from residents.

Good software should avoid this problem. It should facilitate and filter communication with residents. But they need to use it first.

This is why a new trend in software development is becoming apparent now: integrations with apps and social networks where users spend most of their time.

Chatbots are an excellent example of this.

An automated chatbot can act as a concierge that handles requests by users without the need of interaction by a manager. If coupled with machine learning, it can be a powerful tool for customer service and handling of incidents.

Specifically in management of residential communities, Spanish software provider Comunitaria has done exactly that: a chatbot that integrates with software that is already used by residents. They call it Supervecina (super neighbour).

This is also part of the new upgrades currently being prepared for the Urbytus software.

Please contact us in case you wish to find out more about how chatbots and machine learning technology can assist you with the management of your residential community.

Connecting Smart Cities with Smart Homes

If you purchase Amazon Alexa or start using intelligent devices for your house such as Phillips Hue, you begin the journey of turning your dwelling place into a Smart Home.

These solutions will progressively learn from your interaction and generate data that will make them even “smarter.” They will also feed other devices and systems with your data, so they too can learn from your activity and that of other users.

AI, IoT and Blockchain Expo Amsterdam, 2018

Technology has driven us to an era where the physical and digital worlds are finally connecting in a smart way.

Rarely had you seen different stakeholders such as sensor manufacturers, crypto traders and machine learning programmers come together under the same roof, sharing the same vision and showing a real disposition to collaborate.

What is Industry 4.0?

A new industrial revolution is taking place. The fourth one, in case you wondered how many others came and went under our noses.

Industrial Revolution 4.0 is not one thing. It is more of a combination of technologies and processes aiming for more efficient, transparent and decentralised production.

This is the key word to understand 4.0: decentralisation.

Smart communities, somewhere between smart homes and smart cities.

According to the book Smart Cities: Governing, Modelling and Analysing the Transition, there seems to be a rush among major urban areas in the world to follow the pattern set by places like Vancouver, Kyoto, San Francisco or Amsterdam. The tag “Smart City” appears to be used and abused by an increasing number of population centres nowadays.

Which begs the question: if you don’t live in a Smart City, do you live in a Dumb City?

Does your residential community use software?

Letterboxes full of junk mail. Important notifications going missing. How do I tell my neighbour that his dog is digging holes in our gardens? Endless general meetings, but very little progress.

Does your residential community use software to tackle these problems?

There is no shortage of options available in the market. Free or premium; for professional administrators, but also for communities that wish to self-manage their affairs.