Smart City, Surveilled City

Geoff Manaugh ponders the extent to which a Smart City is a Surveillance City:

The smart city is more than just a city that watches and listens. City dwellers are constantly generating data about themselves, down to the vibrations of their footsteps. Consider a project called Big Glass Microphone by the California-based design consultancy Stamen. Big Glass Microphone turned the fiber-optic telecommunications infrastructure embedded beneath Stanford University into a terrestrial eavesdropping tool. Able to pick up seismic disturbances created by delivery trucks, passing cyclists, and even the footsteps of lone pedestrians, the campus’s fiber-optic network became an underground tool for monitoring events on the surface. It is an invisible burglar alarm underfoot.

The impulse is to imagine that in a decent-sized metropolis one voice, one instance of eye contact with a camera, one check-in by your smartphone to a wireless hotspot will be lost among hundreds of thousands of others. But the one thing we know computers are good at is remembering things, filing things away, retrieving them again when someone decides to take an interest in the whereabouts of a given person on a given day.

If we’re lucky, such technology will be frittered away by private companies who deploy all that technology in the interests of deciding who we are and which starlet we’ll find most appealing/eye-catching the next time our line of sight interacts with an advertising billboard they control. If we’re unlucky, all those data feeds will pass through a government data centre for copying/archiving on their way to the advertisers, just in case.

[Via Flowing Data]