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.

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.

Residential communities: grassroots governance

It can be a lonely, unrewarded and difficult journey for the president of a residential community.

Plenty of after-hours work, disgruntled property owners, loads of paperwork, and recurring trips to the bank.

It is remarkable that with so many different types of residential communities in different parts of the world, all arrangements seem to rely on one owner to handle the community’s affairs: the community association president.

Community President Fees. Are They Legal?

A few days ago, a president in Alicante area asked posed the following question  “I am president of our Community.  For the past 20 years, the community president has been paid 480 euros a year to cover his expenses.  A new owner now states in a letter to the Administrators that this is a fiscal fraud and is illegal under Spanish law, even though the majority of owners voted in favour at the AGM.  This owner says further that he will go to the authorities and demand that the payments stop and all monies be returned.  Can you advise?

Before we delve into giving an answer I wanted to add my personal view on it.   Over the past few years at Urbytus while doing demos at AGMs and many other committee meetings, I have met and seen all sorts.  From community presidents who worked as gardeners, cleaners and administrators paying themselves large sums and presidents who practically worked the god given hours in exchange of nothing.

The most common two forms of payment tend to be either a reimbursement for direct expenses and also a waving of sum or all of the community fees.

Certainly if one was to add up all the hours a president may spend helping and dealing with issues, it would be lowest paid job in Spain. Those who do take the roll and dedicate their time to such a job, do not do it for the economical retribution rather in most cases it is with full good intention and interest of the community.  There is no way the community can get a better deal.

The legal answer to the question, provided by our colleague, David Searl, the author of “You & The Law in Spain” is as follow:

Spain’s Horizontal Law, which regulates Communities of Property Owners, says nothing at all about payments or assignations of money to cover a community President’s expenses.  The law neither requires nor prohibits such payments, so there is nothing illegal about them.  The important point is that the payments are voted each year at the AGM.  In a very few Communities, the original Statutes, the Charter of the Community, prohibit such payments, so it might be wise to check them, just in case. And it just occurs to me that your new member might be reading the law of Catalonia.  The Horizontal Law applies in Catalonia, but one article of the Catalan Civil Code prohibits payments to the community President.

The community president fee is also often questioned when the owners feel that they are not seeing anything in return.  My view has always been that no matter how clean and good you work, you need to also communicate this transparency.  Communication is simple. Urbytus provides you with a simple website, where you can log every work, job and conversation you have with the owners, gardners and the administrators. It won’t take you much more than you have already put in, but it does is the difference that you have been lacking:

  1. For a start, it is the easiest form of communication.
  2. The same file or document that you might type into a word file, you can enter directly into the web.
  3. It provides you with a full history of what you have done.
  4. It allows people to see the amount of work you have to deal with and how much of your time it really takes.
  5. It gives knowledge and access way and above your immediate memory and also helps you prepare the ground for the next president.

You surely, don’t need more reasons, try it for free today. Signup now for a trial version.

The 1st Presidents Club Golf Tournament in aid of Cudeca

The Urbytus team and our sponsor EU Property Solutions would like to thank all of the community presidents, administrators & friends who joined us for the 1st Presidents Club Golf Tournament.

The tournament was held at the beautiful Marbella Club Golf Resort in Benahavís on November 10 and was arranged with the help of golf pro Garry Corkish.

This event was held in aid of Cudeca, a local charity which provides end-of-life care for roughly 1000 people in the Málaga region. The hospice concept is not yet formally established in Spain, and Cuduca bridges the gap in care for the terminally ill and their families.

At Urbytus we are proud to extend our reach beyond helping communities get online to support this wonderful charity.

IMG_20151110_103325 IMG_20151110_144044 IMG_20151110_103840 IMG_20151110_102854

We enjoyed a wonderful breakfast while the mountain dew evaporated and at 9:30 the teams headed out for a round of Texas Scramble. The course is reportedly not the easiest, but the players had fun. The winning team was Andy Fergusson from Estepona with team mates. Congratulations!

After the tournament we enjoyed tapas and drinks while Cudeca representative Nati & Urbytus founder Ali, held a raffle & auction which further increased the proceeds given to Cudeca from this event.

 This is the first time Urbytus has organized a golf event, but watch this space and join us next time for a friendly competition in support of a good cause.  Sign up now to The Presidents Club to receive notification about our next event.

Thank you all, we look forward to seeing you next time!

Protecting Your Trade Mark

The Presidents Club

 It is a thing that often most entrepreneurs forget.  It is not just about protecting your trade mark, but also making sure that you do not use someone else’s.

 Let me begin with my own story as an example.  In 2007 I embarked on a new project. I knew very well how important it was to get the naming right, have it registered and protected.  Before coming up with a product or company name, we setup about doing a six months brain storming session, while working on the project in parallel.