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Make data the new 'public good' before it's too late

A poll found that three-quarters of people are concerned about the privacy of their personal data on the internet

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Citizens in Ghent have control over data via access to a web portal called Mijn Ghent
Citizens in Ghent have control over data via access to a web portal called Mijn Ghent

City governments should be key players in making data a new form of infrastructure to improve the lives of citizens, a new study finds.

 

The innovation foundation, Nesta, contends data is the new “donation currency”, which has huge potential to transform public services, from healthcare to transport.

 

In future, data will be as important in creating successful cities as roads, clean water or energy grids were in the early 20th century but the foundation calls for a need to build greater transparency, accountability and trust for data-driven initiatives.

 

Nesta points to several high-profile personal data violations, most notably the Cambridge Analytica scandal, along with the introduction of GDPR, which has made the public increasingly wary of how personal data is being used.

 

A recent Nesta poll found that 75 per cent of people are concerned about the privacy of their personal data on the internet. Without efforts now to take a more responsible approach to data collection and use, city governments risk a collapse in citizen trust, it warns.

 

The report identifies city governments around the world that are developing privacy-preserving ways to encourage data to be more easily shared, established as a ‘data commons’ and lifted out of organisational silos, so increasing its value.

 

The projects identified demonstrate how cities can be used as test-beds for new tools and services that give individuals more control and empower them to decide how personal data is collected and used.

 

Nesta has published the report as a partner in the Decode project; an EU Horizon 2020 project with 14 European partners developing technologies, such as distributed computing and advanced cryptography tools, designed with user-friendliness in mind, to give people better control of their data.

 

“Data should be the fundamental public infrastructure of the 21st century, as were roads, street lights and clean drinking water in the past. As a partner on the Decode project, we want city governments to start reconceiving data as new type of common good, said Tom Symons, acting head of government innovation research at Nesta and co-author of the report.

 

“Data has huge potential to deliver significant personal and public benefits, but we need to start planning for this now. The world is waking up to both the possibility, and misuse of data and we have a responsibility to develop technology that will protect citizens, but also ensure the true public value of data is unlocked.”

 

The report highlights the cities around the world which are blazing a trail in responsibly mining the worlds’ biggest growing resource for public good including:

 

  • As part of its ‘city of people’ strategy, the Belgian city of Ghent wants to empower its ‘smart citizens’ by giving them access to ‘technology that they ‘own and control.’ Residents are provided with a simple web-portal called ‘Mijn Gent’ which gives them access to a range of local services, such as library services or registration for sports camps, while giving them full control over the management and sharing of their personal data. The city is also collaborating with a non-profit called Indie on an initiative which will give residents their own personal website on top of which applications can be built that let them manage and control how local services access and use personal data.

 

  • New York City is pursuing a range of initiatives which promote the responsible use and handling of citizens’ data. One such initiative is the creation of a set of Internet of Things (IoT) guidelines which establish privacy standards for the deployment of IoT devices in public spaces throughout the city. As algorithms are increasingly used to reach a range of decisions, from school allocations to eligibility for bank loans, the city government has also introduced legislation mandating the creation of a task force to monitor the use of algorithmic decision-making systems in the city.

 

If you like this, you might be interested in reading the following:

 

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What public leaders need to know

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