5G Wireless Apocalypse: Smart City of Surveillance
This is a continuation of our look at the upcoming 5G wireless revolution. In our last article we looked at the 5th generation wireless network’s capabilities and a potential downside in the health effects of RF. In this installment we’ll look at another potential problem with the futuristic vision of our cities integrating 5G, your privacy. The spectre of physical harm from RF waves may only be a distraction from what might be the real problems in store for us when we hand our cities and even our civic commons over to big data analytics and algorithms. Privacy may only be the first casualty.
The Smart City of Surveillance Inside Toronto, Canada
“Years ago, we were sitting there thinking, Wouldn’t it be nice if you could take technical things that we know and apply them to cities? And our founders got really excited about this. We started talking about all of these things that we could do if someone would just give us a city and put us in charge.”
- Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google parent company, Alphabet Inc.
And in 2017, Eric Schmidt got his wish in the form of a district inside Canada’s largest city, Toronto.
More than 4.9 hectares (12 acres) of prime waterfront real estate in downtown Toronto has been given over to Google in an experiment to create what they’re calling: “The first city built from the Internet up.” It’s called Sidewalk Toronto, a joint effort between Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs, a Google-owned company dedicated to networking in urban areas. The project promises to develop a new kind of community that includes forward-thinking urban design and the latest digital technology. No cars will be allowed in the district, but transportation is planned to be available through an automated transit system. Connectivity will be complete, with WiFi and 5G coverage available in all businesses and public spaces. Along with all that connectivity is of course, data collection. Virtually everything will be monitored with data collected, ostensibly for efficiency, convenience and comfort.
Benefits of Living in Sidewalk Toronto
The promise of the smart city is convenience for individuals and money-saving efficiency for public services. Internet-connected sensors in the streets can monitor things like traffic, noise, air quality and even garbage bins to help guide city services and traffic flow for a healthier, greener, more livable smart city life. It promises to be the model city for real-time, information-based resource allocation and municipal efficiency through data and analytics.
Some of the conveniences for individuals, besides ubiquitous Internet, will include more personalized access to local businesses and events. Imagine, the smartphone experience taken to its logical conclusion, across the environment itself. Traveling on foot or public transit through the "no car" district, you’ll get personalized suggestions for routing. You’ll instantly see where to find the best coffee shop near you, through your device or even directly onto your eyes through optional augmented reality glasses. Using behavioral analysis, the city itself will anticipate your every need before you even knew you needed it, and may offer a money-saving digital coupon on your next latte. The 5G-connected smart city of the future will be a masterwork of information gathering and profiling. But exactly what and how much data will be gathered on individuals in Sidewalk Toronto, or any of our future 5G smart cities? Without specific policies aimed at regulating data collection, the assumption is - all of it. Which raises not only privacy concerns, but municipal governance questions, as public institutions become intertwined with private business.
What becomes of the citizen’s power to vote when analytics and algorithms provided by private businesses make important civic decisions? Without regulation, 5G could pave the way for a replacement of democracy with a transhumanist algocracy. Perhaps this is how the machines really do take over. We already trust Google every day with the deepest, most intimate questions about our lives. Are we ready to be governed by its algorithms? Are we heading for a nightmare scenario of profiling potential criminals like we saw it Tom Cruise's thriller Minority Report?
Here's a cautionary vision of what a 5G-enabled internet of things environment might look like as seen through augmented reality glasses by the artists and designers at Hyper-Reality in Medellin, Columbia.
Hyper-Reality Smart City
Welcome to a future where reality is projected onto your glasses, creating a consumerist simulacrum of the world around you. In this brave, or annoying, new world you’ll trade those little individual moments of imagination or personal thoughts and connections to your surrounding for a completely transactional reality with layers of commercialization vying for your attention. Hyper-Reality graphically illustrates the flood of digital data exchanged at your every move in a future smart city. Even if you leave the augmented reality glasses at home, the data about you is still being tracked and traded without your knowledge.
Sidewalk Toronto Digital Privacy
But the Sidewalk Toronto project has run into some serious public relations problems. Canadian privacy expert and former Ontario Privacy Commissioner, Dr. Ann Cavoukian was initially brought on board the project to consult through the early planning stages. Her task was help implement her Privacy by Design framework to ensure the personal privacy of residents and visitors alike. Dr. Cavoukian knows a thing or two about the potential over-reach of data collection on individuals by both public and private sectors, because she lead the creation of the 7-principle privacy framework. It was designed back in the 90s to address privacy concerns in information and communication technology over large-scale networks in anticipation of the coming digital age. Frameworks like Privacy by Design and Privacy by Default have been implemented by the European Union for its General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Having a force like Dr. Cavoukian on board should have guaranteed a secure, privacy-friendly Sidewalk Toronto, but unfortunately it didn’t work out that way.
Dr. Cavoukian resigned from the project when she was informed by Sidewalk Labs that, although Google itself would not include personal identifiers as data is collected, it couldn’t guarantee that other companies involved in the project would follow the same critical guiding principles of her privacy framework. This means that when walking around Sidewalk Toronto, you’ll have less privacy than browsing the Internet using Google’s Chrome browser. Visitors to the Toronto district will be followed by a veritable cloud of behavioral data collection, monitoring your every move, pause, window shop, and purchase.
“I imagined us creating a Smart City of Privacy, as opposed to a Smart City of Surveillance,”
- Dr. Cavoukian said in her resignation letter.
Google is one of one of the original surveillance technology creators, it masterminded much of the technology taken for granted by tech companies and digital advertisers today that tracks your every action online. The current outlook for Sidewalk Toronto seems to be a privacy disaster. It recently got more bad news from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, Canada’s equivalent of the ACLU. The CCLA launched a lawsuit against the federal, provincial and municipal governments responsible for Sidewalk Toronto’s development. But the CCLA and Dr. Cavoukian aren’t the only ones sending strong statements about the project. Former Research in Motion (now Blackberry) CEO, Jim Balsillie calls Sidewalk Toronto:
“...a colonizing experiment in surveillance capitalism attempting to bulldoze important urban, civic and political issues.”
5G Smart Roads & Automotive Telematics infrastructure
5G will bring a confluence of technologies promising significant changes to how we interact with the road and our cars. Internet of things will usher in an era of automotive telematics, ubiquitous connectivity between your car and city or highway infrastructure that will soon include semi-autonomous or self-driving vehicles. The obvious benefits will be tremendous in road safety, navigation, and energy savings and best of all, semi-autonomous vehicles will give us moments to relax behind the wheel and let the machine take over for a time.
5G’s incredible download speeds in the gigabytes per-second will be nice to have but won’t be as critical as its 1-millisecond latency for precision roadway safety behind the wheel. Your future family SUV won’t rely solely on sensors for collision-detection. Instead, it will “see” every other car on the road when it’s linked to a greater traffic-flow infrastructure, overseeing traffic safety and efficiency. Your future car will literally operate as one with the road itself. The benefits of the constant exchange of information between your car and the all-seeing eye of a cloud road system will make driving safer, greener and save you time on your morning commute. Best of all, it promises to save lives. It's estimated to reduce the percentage of the nearly 30,000 fatal road accidents in the US annually. It will bring serenity to the raging hell that is many of our daily commutes. Yet, the changes 5G will bring to transportation is just a microcosm of the same nodal relationship that we, ourselves will all have with our natural environment. When we walk through the 5G smart cities of the future, instead of our cars, our bodies will be the intersection of omnipresent information exchange. We will reap great benefits, but in the present business environment of practically unregulated surveillance, there is a darker side.
Car manufacturers are already getting in on Google's mass-surveillance game. Ford Motor Company has been reorganizing to achieve greater value by implementing new policies of data collection on its customers. If you buy a Ford through Ford Credit, the company knows nearly everything about you, from your personal finances and work history, and uses that data to create a profile on you. It can use everything you do in your new Ford “smart car” to continue building that profile, including all the details of your in-car communications and driving habits and destinations. The ongoing surveillance is collected as “behavioral data”, and provides Ford with new revenue streams because behavioral data is a valuable resource in the new information marketplace. Ford has only been an early adopter of this new business model, it's set to reap the rewards of re-calibrating its business to a new Internet age of surveillance that is already well underway in most industries. Ford isn’t the only auto manufacturer adapting to the new business model, all auto manufacturers will following suit. GM is already following closely behind Ford.
We could be standing on the threshold of a near-future dystopia where 5G brings the constant surveillance we already experience online into the world outside. Thanks to the upcoming 5G wireless network, nearly everything around you will be monitoring, tracking and collecting data. In our next installment of the 5G Wireless Apocalypse, we’ll see the real reason the fifth generation wireless network is being embraced by free-market economies worldwide. The danger is not from radio-waves. It's from first-world economies generating revenue by freely exploiting a new natural resource - personal information about you.
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Another question: which dystopian fiction was more prophetic:
-Huxley's Brave New World
-Mike Judge's Idiocracy
mmulhern, post: 1315520, member: 69777
Great article. Question re: Ford that I was unclear about. Is the data tracking currently in effect or is that their plan in the future? I'm actually unsure what Ford's definition of a ‘smart car’ is.
The reason I am interested is that I recently purchased a Ford vehicle for my business and I wanted to pay the dealer cash. The dealer told me that they could give me $2500 off if I financed the car. I said ‘what about the cash though? That should be the best deal.’
They said that the $2500 was from Ford and was only available if I financed. If I want to pay cash and get the discount, finance and then pay it off the first month. Which is what we did.
I don't think it's completely rolled out, but it must be close today. I follow the Freakonomics podcast and they interviewed the new CEO of Ford (at least I think that's his job title). He had an interesting resume, I think he started in furniture or something strange, then tech, then Ford as a professional executive. He had the master plan to combine Ford Credit data collection with online/in-car data collection for a pretty massive suite of personal data that few other companies would ever have access to… all as a means of increasing revenue.
Damn, remember the days when a car company you know… sold cars. Profits were tied to the merits of the automobiles they produced.
matteos, post: 1315755, member: 60690I had placed a ordered off of Amazon one day. Than like not even 24 hrs I get this email from Google asking me why I should use Google to make my purchases online. Really!! Them f..kheads been tracking my every move on the internet!! The email went like this, “ why not make your purchases through Google.”
All downside. No upside.
You track me and I get what? A free coupon to Starbucks? What happened to “Nothing evil”?
Read: Privacy Now! The Destructive Influence of Big Data Surveillance