CoLab presents research paper on Smart Cities at Oxford

One of the Colab team members was recently invited to present their collaborative research at the Connected Life 2019 conference that was held at both Oxford (24th June) and London (25th June), supported by the Oxford Internet Institute (OII), London School of Economics (LSE), and the Alan Turing Institute (The Turing). The conference was attended by 82 speakers from 51 universities and research institutes from 19 different countries.

Wouter Grove presented the paper Engagement within civic spaces: User consent to public surveillance and identity reconstruction that was authored with Olga Tsoumani and Shenja van der Graaf (both from imec-SMIT, Vrije Universiteit Brussels, Brussels, Belgium) and Prof Derek Powell (Dullah Omar Institute, University of the Western Cape).


This paper is about the intensifying relationship between platforms and urban environments, captured by a growing interest to ‘smarten up’ our cities. It grapples with how current concepts in both law and the smart-city discourse, encompass and direct the make-up of the changing relation of the ‘social’ and public space engagement and the role converging technologies play creating everyday – through recording, quantifying, processing and analysing enormous volumes of public and personal data - billions of geno-digital data points in this relationship. In particular, sparse insights are available on the dynamics of emerging surveillance technologies – associated with increasing integration of data across domains – and the increasing opaqueness of user interfaces, undermining the nature of agreement entered into by citizens and challenging their trade-off capacities. In order to understand the degree of users’ voluntary engagement in serving as data sources and to determine their capacity of analysing the complex trade-offs in this setting, we introduce the concept of “geno-digital spores” - a necessary extension to the soft-used term “digital footprints” – to yield insights in the way these disrupt more traditional notions of time, space, ownership and power. Geno-digital spores increasingly redefine human identity as a predictive model of behaviour. This recasting of the citizen as data-subject (or, data citizen) and the unprecedented ability of authority (power) to map, manage and control population behaviour has led to responses from law and government, some of which we highlight. The evolving and unique nature of geno-digital spores over time has consequences for the requirements of informed consent requested to users. Implications for users’ capacity to make an informed choice over their engagement in a publicly surveilled space and the constant reconstruction of their personal identities are discussed.

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