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"When billboards stare back: how cities can reclaim the digital public space", New report in collaboration with Nesta

The Cities Coalition for Digital Rights, Nesta Foundation and the City of Amsterdam launch the report "When Billboards Stare Back: How Cities Can Reclaim the Digital Public Space", which tackles the pressing privacy concerns around data-collecting devices deployed in digital public spaces

Data-collecting devices are being deployed in physical public and semiprivate spaces in cities at an unprecedented speed, and cities often lack the knowledge about what sensors are being deployed or do not have the competences and capacity to address the privacy concerns they bring about. Physical public areas – town squares, pedestrian zones, shopping centres and bus stops – are increasingly subject to unfettered digitalisation, with commercial sensors tracking eye movements for feedback on digital advertisements, or cameras recognising faces in shopping centres. Examples include the ubiquitous security camera translating everyday street life into digital images, WiFi tracking devices to count customers and analyse their ‘shop journeys’, or automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) to register real world cars and their holders into a searchable database. 

This poses a potential violation of the fundamental right to privacy and undermines trust in public authorities, and cities often lack the knowledge about what sensors are being deployed or do not have the competences and capacity to address the privacy concerns they bring about.

About the report

The report published by the Cities Coalition for Digital Rights, City of Amsterdam and UK innovation foundation Nesta seeks to address the question how cities and regions can protect the privacy of their residents, especially when it comes to private sector data collection. Cities often are not aware of their specific regulatory powers when it comes to preventing companies from invading citizens’ privacy by collecting sensitive data on a large scale. 

However, as the best practices gathered in the report "When Billboards Stare Back: How Cities Can Reclaim the Digital Public Space" show it, municipalities are leading the way and coming up with innovative approaches, regulations, policies and principles to bind and limit these practices.

What can cities do?

The report makes some useful recommendations cities can take to increase their influence and effectiveness in protecting the data of their residents and visitors:

  1. Make effective and smart use of the powers and instruments that cities already have, such as licensing and purchasing, so that commercial parties handle the use of sensors in public space responsibly.
  2. Engage citizens, civil society and commercial parties in a bottom-up manner. Take on a communicative and mediating role.
  3. Integrate privacy expertise across local authority departments.
  4. Amend the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) by introducing a duty to report Data Protection Impact Assessments to local authorities and regulators relating to sensors in publicly accessible spaces. This would bring GDPR out of ‘online only’ and into the physical, offline world.

 


 

Read the Report

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