In Eindhoven, Utrecht and Assen smart projects are tackling everything from traffic to street crime. But with privacy laws being flouted and commercial companies in on the act, are things as benign as they seem?
Stratumseind in Eindhoven is one of the busiest nightlife streets in the Netherlands. On a Saturday night, bars are packed, music blarings through the street, laugh and drunken wailing ricochets off the walls. As the night progresses, the ground becomes littered with empty shot bottles, energy drink cans, cigarette butts and broken glass.
It’s no astonish that the place is also known for its frequent battles. To change that image, Stratumseind has become one of the “smartest” streets in the Netherlands. Lamp-posts have been fitted with wifi-trackers, cameras and 64 microphones that can detect aggressive behaviour and alert police officer to altercations. There has been a failed experiment to change light intensity to alter the mood. The next plan, starting this spring, is to diffuse the smell of oranges to calm people down. The aim? To stimulate Stratumseind a safer place.
All the while, data is being collected and stored.” Guests do not realise they are entering a living laboratory ,” says Masa Galic, a researcher on privacy in the public space for the Tilburg Institute of Law, Technology and Society. Since the data on Stratumseind is used to profile, nudge or actively target people, this” smart city” experiment is subject to privacy law. According to the Dutch Personal Data Protection Act, people should be notified in advance of data collection and the purpose should be specified- but in Stratumseind, as in many other ” smart cities“, this is not the case.
Peter van de Crommert is involved at Stratumseind as project director with the Dutch Institute for Technology, Safety and Security. He says guests do not have to worry about their privacy: the data is about mobs , not someones.” We often get that remark-‘ Big brother is watching you’- but I prefer to say,’ Big brother is helping you ‘. We want safe nightlife, but not a soldier on every street corner .”