An increasing number of cities are adopting smart technologies. These smart cities have the potential to offer greater convenience, efficiency, and environmental sustainability. This isn’t just about investing in self-driving vehicles and virtual reality (VR) tours. It also takes more fundamental infrastructural forms, such as utilizing data analytics to improve city services and sensors in the internet of things (IoT) to reduce energy consumption.
However, it’s vital to understand that cities shouldn’t adopt smart methods without serious consideration. The way authorities and vendors use technology can have ethical implications for citizens and visitors. As planners continue to implement advanced tools, they need to establish how their actions impact the lives of those interacting with the city and its services.
Perhaps the most prominent ethical consideration with smart cities is security risks. In our increasingly connected society, cybercrime represents one of the key threats to safety, finances, and efficiency. Smart cities operate based on sending significant amounts of information between devices, departments, and third-party vendors. This could put citizens and city departments at greater risk of cybercrime. Therefore, authorities have a responsibility to approach security ethically.
This means taking a security-first approach to all development. It simply isn’t ethical to tack protective tools onto systems as an afterthought. Neither should cities leap blindly into adopting tech for efficiency or to save public funding. The smart city must be designed with integrated security systems in place, alongside clear contingency measures for any breaches.
The approach could include tech measures to manage such risks for cities and citizens. Artificial intelligence (AI) is increasingly finding a place in the identification of threats and real-time monitoring of security hazards. This applies both to smart tech systems and physical crime across the city.
However, it’s equally important to approach AI in an ethical manner. Doing so will ensure the algorithms aren’t unduly influenced by human biases. As such, smart city information technology (IT) departments need to commit to gathering up-to-date security data while being vigilant that this isn’t skewed in ways that perpetuate discrimination.
Public health must be a priority for all smart city governance organizations. To some extent, connected technology and data usage can have significant advantages for public health monitoring and prediction through AI software. However, smart city tools also need to be utilized ethically to ensure minimal detrimental health impacts on citizens.
For instance, many smart cities are incorporating the use of applications to navigate city services and augmented reality to improve tourist experiences. While smartphones are undoubtedly beneficial tools for integrating tech to make lives more efficient, overuse can lead to some health issues. The unhealthy postures people adopt when looking at their phones can contribute to or cause muscular or skeletal challenges. The strain of these positions can result in everything from short-term strain-related discomfort to unbearable pain.
As such, smart city authorities need to take an ethical approach to educate its citizens and visitors. This may include having warnings on city apps or websites advising on the most effective posture. Recommendations to limit screen time when navigating city services can also reduce potential eye strain and headaches.
Data is an integral aspect of smart cities. The volume and quality of data collected by devices and systems are essential to making certain technology and algorithms operate at peak potential. In some ways, it can also contribute to more personalized interactions with city services. However, this data has to be gathered, stored, and utilized in an ethical way to protect the privacy and individual needs of citizens.
The issues here don’t just come from the security threats we explored earlier. The high-quality data collected is also valuable to businesses. Selling data for research, marketing, and other analytics processes could provide significant additional revenue to cities and technology vendors. Unless explicit permission is gained from the owners of data — the individual citizens — the result can be an unethical breach of privacy.
The ethical behavior here starts with cities and vendors limiting the identifiable information they collect and store. The information gathered must only be absolutely necessary for the functioning of devices and software.
Cities should also take steps to inform users of the specific ways in which their data may be utilized, stored, and distributed. Importantly, as there can be a tendency for users to skip over data collection advice, it is most ethical to have an opt-in approach to long-term data storage and sale. When users have to actively give permission, this helps to ascertain that they truly understand and agree to how their personal information is used.
Smart cities offer many potential advantages to citizens, authorities, and industries. However, it’s important to take steps that mitigate areas of ethical concern. Strict security protocols need to be in place to prevent breaches and abuse of tech tools. Cities must educate citizens on the potential health challenges related to their mobile tech interactions. There should also be high standards of ethical data handling, focused on seeking express usage permission from users. By putting these standards in place early on, smart cities can develop on an ethical basis that is positive for everyone involved.