Digital City Platform: the new public space

We live in a world of platforms. Digital places where people can share ideas, find events, get access to knowledge, advertise, buy and sell. Recently, on their journey to smart cities, cities are more and more experimenting in living labs with platforms. For example the Eindhovens Stratumseind Living Lab, where a FiWare based platform is operational. This platform serves as a carrier for innovative applications involving lighting, social media, gaming technology, and the collection and processing of sensor data. The main purpose is to make the nightlife area Stratumseind safer, more vibrant and more attractive.

Smart Public services

City platforms are key enablers for connecting people and businesses to smart public services, like public lighting, mobility, safety and sustainability. A place where sensors, actuators, API’s, middleware and applications are processing information about the public space and about us. In a smart city the physical public space is transforming into a digital data driven public space, which encompasses a digital layer that contains a multitude of sensor and human generated data. And where decisions are based on data.

Legislative challenges

Undeniably the speed with which innovation develops, puts the government for legislative challenges. The Supreme Court of the United States made a clear observation when it considers that “the Internet’s forces and directions are so new, so protean, and so far reaching that courts must be conscious that what they say today may be obsolete tomorrow”. The same goes for the government as legislator. So how must government, within the context of emerging innovations, deal with questions on access to platforms and ownership of data? Does an owner of a platform have an exclusive right to the data it processes? Or should a smart city platform be open and freely available to all, just like the physical public space?
The municipalities of Eindhoven and Amsterdam approached these questions in a principle based IoT Charter. On access to platforms and data this charter states:  ”we facilitate innovation by making data publicly available and enabling access to IoT & data systems through open interfaces”. Other initiatives like the City as a Platform Manifesto promulgate similar principles. Clearly they all vote for openness by default.
The hiQ vs LinkedIn case almost framed open access to platforms and data as a digital human right. LinkedIn tried to prevent hiQ from scraping data from public profiles on LinkedIn. An interesting consideration from this perspicacious judgement: “ the analogy of the Internet in general, and social networking sites in particular, to the “modern public square,” embraces the social norm that assumes the openness and accessibility of that forum to all…”. Open access to platforms and data trumps private ownership.

Ownership of data does not exist

To debunk a myth: ownership of data does not exist. At least it shouldn’t be. Unlike tangible assets intangible assets like data are ubiquitous, abundant and growing exponential. Given the tremendous importance of platforms and data, this means a new economic reality. A reality where we share, collect, mine, scrape, use, re-use and combine data in order to upcycle data to new applications and services. Services like the ones that are deployed at Stratumseind where several data sources are combined in order to predict fights and create a safer place. Or the emerging artificial intelligent systems used in autonomous vehicles.
These AI-systems have the potential of processing huge amounts of data to make better, sometimes life-and-death decisions. These examples show that we can achieve more value for citizens and businesses, if governments engage the digital city platforms as new public spaces open to all.
Author: R. Haase, legal advisor, City of Eindhoven

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