The use of biometric data, both physiological (facial recognition, fingerprints, voice patterns, retina scans, etc.) and behavioural (keystroke, speech, gait, signature, and cognition), is likely to become one of the most debated and divisive issues of the decade.
Biometric data are used in a rapidly expanding variety of contexts including payment processing, customs and border protection, law enforcement, employment verification, and many other use cases. In the retail context alone, facial recognition technology is used to analyze shopper demographics, assess shopper engagement with displays, catch shoplifters, confirm individual identity, and provide customers with more individualized shopping experiences.
Not surprisingly, this tracking technology raises privacy issues. For example, a password can be reset, but a fingerprint or facial characteristics, cannot be. Any data collection also has to be considered in light of unanticipated uses - whether by law enforcement, or by hackers. Such issues will continue to attract the attention of legislators and the public, as seen most recently with the Canadian privacy regulators’ investigation of Clearview AI.
A ‘smart’ or ‘connected’ city leverages data and technology to serve people by improving the quality of the urban environment. It optimizes government services and resources, increases economic competitiveness, and enhances the quality of life for residents and visitors. For businesses, smart city infrastructure creates many opportunities for them to develop new services and marketing strategies.
Smart city technologies will also enable and streamline both connected and autonomous vehicles. Modern cars are now increasingly becoming connected to consumer technologies (e.g. infotainment), digital infrastructure and to each other. This provides drivers and passengers with more safety on the roads, improved navigation support, and helpful suggestions (e.g. recommendations for nearby restaurants and attractions).
The significant privacy and cybersecurity challenges that arise with the advancement of these modern cities and vehicles cannot be underestimated. Consumers have many concerns including hacking, unanticipated data uses, collection of sensitive personal data (including location information), and tracking and surveillance. Data ownership and sovereignty are also elements that governments and organizations with access to that data will need to address.
The main challenge will be to activate the opportunities and social benefits that smart cities and connected and autonomous cars enable, while effectively addressing the potential issues that come with immense data collection. Solving this challenge requires public and private partnerships that focus on providing optimal solutions through privacy by design, industry standards, informed consent and accountability.
5G is a key element in making smart cities and autonomous vehicles a reality. Yet, 5G doesn’t just promise a faster version of the 4G internet we have now - by some estimates, 5G will spur $1 trillion in global GDP over the next three years. It will change how consumers digest media, purchase products and services, and operate their homes.
For organizations, 5G underlies immense potential for automation and proliferation of intelligent environments. As PwC’s Marin Ivezic explained in a recent post, the sheer capacity of 5G networks will expand the number of networked device connections by a factor of 100X. This capability alone can expedite manufacturing lines, automate supply chains, as well as accelerate Internet of Things (IoT) deployments at scale.
This new technology will also enable the processing of inconceivably large amounts of data as more consumer wearables and personal devices connect to 5G networks. Privacy concerns will spike as much of this data will be sensitive. This includes location data: 5G has a smaller coverage area and, with many more cellular towers placed together within a smaller radius, it will become easier to pinpoint someone’s location.
This presents a risk of continuous, constant surveillance of individuals’ movements and activities. In conjunction with other data gathering (e.g. using data analytics and artificial intelligence), the inferences being drawn from these data points can be used to build detailed and profoundly accurate profiles on any individual.
To date, perhaps the greatest risk we have seen from this data gathering and analysis has been the ability to use these profiles to manipulate public opinion, and in effect weaponise personal data against western democracies. In the future, such profiles could be made available for purposes that may be far beyond what is contemplated today.
At PwC, we are committed to advancing the public policy discussion and thought leadership on responsible data use, privacy and innovation. We engage with companies, policymakers and privacy professionals to develop solutions to some of the most pressing privacy and cyber issues. If you have questions, or are seeking unique solutions for your own organization, set up a consultation with one of our PwC advisors.
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