Tag Archives: Data

What skills will we need to live in future smart cities?

Last week, I co-authored a piece with Theo Tryfonas, a colleague from the University of Bristol’s Faculty of Engineering, on the Government Office for Science’s Future of Cities blog, looking at digital skills and competencies in the context of future smart cities.

A summary of the post is below, with the full report available to read online.

Today, the idea that data can play a key role in the design and management of cities is widely recognised. Architects, planners and engineers are already considering how data can improve the planning and operational aspects of cities. However, we believe it’s now time to consider the skills that people will need to live in these smart cities.

The increasing digitisation of information, coupled with the impact of innovations such as the Internet of Things, will have a profound effect on all aspects of city life. This will include anything, from transport planning and energy use reduction, to care provision and assisted living. But it will also include new ways of social innovation, new ways of organising communities, and increased access to political processes. So, familiarity, if not proficiency, in `digital era’ skills will be an essential part of future citizenship.

This doesn’t only mean people should have the necessary digital consumption skills to help them make full use of emerging technologies. They should also have digital creation skills such as design, technology awareness, computational thinking and programming skills, as well as a risk-informed perception of data privacy and security. The challenges of delivering such a skillset are many, from designing a 21st century curriculum for schools and universities, to ensuring fair access to digital technology for everyone.

We believe that taking the time to consider these skills issues now is just as important as resolving the design and operational issues of the emerging technologies themselves.


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Colloquial definitions of Big, Open and Personal Data

Here’s a useful (draft) set of colloquial definitions for Big, Open and Personal Data on GitHub from the Open Data Institute.

Why is this a worthwhile exercise? Well, Open Data gets conflated with Personal Data, everyone talks about Big Data (yet no-one is exactly sure what it is, but many have tried to define it)…and we all should be concerned about Personal Data.


1. Big Data is (i) data that you cannot handle with conventional tools or (ii) a term used as a vague metaphor for solving problems with data.

2. Open Data is data that anyone can use; without legal, technical or financial barriers.

3. Personal Data is data derived from people, where you can distinguish a person from other people in the group.

(also, can Big Open Personal (BOP) Data exist?)

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Location, location, location

The widelyreported furore over location tracking in smartphones (first with the iPhone, then with the Android platform) has yet again highlighted the apparent contradiction between certain people’s constant need to publicise what they are doing and where they are doing it, whilst also maintaining the absolute right to privacy throughout.

I find this rather strange. Perhaps being a technology geek, I am very much aware of the technical infrastructure (and constant stream of personal data) required to support the services that we use every day. I therefore make a conscious and informed choice when I allow these services to access my information or publish my location. In fact, I am happy to publish my iPhone location data below, as I am aware of the perceived risks:

Tom Crick's iPhone data -- I've been a busy boy

But with Apple today finally breaking radio silence and clarifying how and why they are storing the geo-tagged Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data, it all boils down to this: it’s a bug.

Hmmmmm. Being a computer scientist, I have written a fair amount of buggy code in my time, but it is rare when it prompts the question “feature or bug?“. Normally, I would ascribe things like this to cock-up before conspiracy, but it is seems more likely to be about potential revenue generation rather than anything more sinister such as government tracking (as I would question the value of timestamped location data from inaccurate cell tower data).

I think that being able to access my own data is pretty cool, but the collection process should be more explicit and transparent to all types of users: clearly explained and not buried in the 15,200 word iTunes terms and conditions. You should also be able to easily purge the data and it should (at the very least) be encrypted/hashed. You can encrypt your iPhone backup, but this option is not enabled by default.

So, does Apple apologising for forgetting to set an expiry on your data that it collects resolve the issue? Not really. This is a worrying trend from companies such as Microsoft, Google, Apple, et al., who are acting as if personal data is a resource that can be harvested at will. Of course you are free to not use their products or services, but it is vital for this data collection to be open and explicitly opt-in. After recent events, I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple receive a number of Subject Access Requests over the coming weeks in the UK. A positive outcome from all of this would be a wider public debate on the storage and use of personal data.

FYI: your smartphone already knows more about you then you may think.

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