50 years ago in "The Death and Life of Great American Cities", the renowned urbanist Jane Jacobs argued that the defining characteristic of cities is that the great size of their populations means that most people in them are strangers to each other; and that creating safety and security in that context is fundamentally dependent on a clear separation between public and private activity.
Digital technologies such as smartphones and "Google Glass", a “wearable computer” mounted on false spectacles that overlays displays of information on what we see and can make video and audio recordings of the world we are experiencing, challenge our understanding of what is public and what is private.
If we use a relatively inconspicuous Bluetooth headset to make a call through a mobile phone hidden in a pocket; and if we gesture with our arms emphatically whilst speaking on that call; how should the people around us, who might be completely unaware that the call is taking place, interpret our actions? And what happens if they perceive those gestures to be rude or threatening?
Privacy is already high on the technology agenda; but as technology spreads further and deeper into city systems, and into our interactions in city environments, it is useful to bear in mind the enduring legacy of Jane Jacob’s work, and be reminded that security is at the heart of cities, not just technology.
As a result, two of the most frequent questions I am asked in the panel debates and media interviews I participate in are: who owns all this data? And are big corporations using it and controlling it for their own purposes?
I've tried to answer those questions in the article linked below; I'd be delighted to hear your views on the subject.