Policy matters: The connected home and the smart city

Connected homes exist within the larger context of a smart city, and we need to design both services and policies to make this work for citizens.

In this book, we focus primarily on the home as a connected environment. However, as is the nature of networked systems, homes do not exist independently but rather in context. We need to consider a smart home in the context of the smart city. This holds especially true here where data will be exchanged between systems..

A smart home in a smart city

How does a connected home interact with an increasingly smart city? How do we want the two systems to interact?

These question touch upon privacy, data ownership, and participation. Each of these are huge fields that require us to drill deeper, with implications for different groups and professions.

Designers of products and services might want to extend their services in both directions, making sure their ideas reach from the city into the home and vice versa. How to build human-centric systems and interactions that create value at the intersection between inside and outside the home? How to design the data-aspects of the home's threshold?

Data scientists and software developers might want create data models that are applicable and appropriate to use in this context, and determine which standards to adopt.

Startups and entrepreneurs might want to explore how to build useful, desirable products that create and capture value when transactions take place between the two systems. Some scenarios to consider:

  • Urban mobility & data
  • Energy consumption and production data
  • Real estate, lease, and holiday rental scenarios

Policy makers around the globe are working hard to understand the implications of what it means to make a city "smart" as they start pilot projects and draft smart city policies.

Policies for smart cities & connected homes

Earlier this year, the German federal government released a major report about the future of urbanization.1 As part of this report, Prof. Dr. Christoph Bieber and Peter were commissioned to contribute an expert study on the implications of the smart city for citizens (as opposed to vendors and other commercial entities).2

Many of the questions explored in our study apply directly to the connected home, or offer avenues of exploring this context further, as they tap directly into larger questions of participation, ownership, and resilience.

We took those very questions, and as a little playful exploration, replaced "city/urban" with "home", "public" with "private".

Here is the result:

What does digitalization mean for the urban home context today? What happens to cities homes when infrastructure, public space private spaces and citizens are becoming increasingly technologically networked, tracked by sensor networks, and part of a rich data ecosystem?

The various elements of a data-smart city home and its integration into urban culture are to be recognized as a part of urban governance structures. Aspects such as sustainable development, education, inclusion, transparency and openness deserve attention accordingly.

The path to increased security and resilience of the smart city home must include transparency and the principles of open source. Strong data sovereignty of citizens is the basis for participation and problem solving competence – especially when facing possible technological problems of digital urban home infrastructure.

A city home that is measured and sensed through sensors, cameras and other survey systems is always a city home under surveillance that could discipline its citizens residents. This means a conflict between problematic surveillance and control on one side positive knowledge and data based opportunities on the other. The ambivalence of the potentials that threaten democracy and those that foster it need to be reevaluated constantly.

Not all of these simple replacements fit 100 percent. And yet you get the idea: The larger issues, threats and opportunities all apply to the context of the connected home to some degree. And in building connections and connectedness across the boundary between the two—in strengthening the data flow between both worlds—the lines increasingly blur.

What happens inside the home is part of the larger cityscape, and now it is measurable in real time, too.

We need policies for the connected home

Lawmakers have long been playing catch up with technology. To some degree, this is in the nature of things. However, we do need sensible policies to govern connected systems that are as sensitive as the connected home.

As part of our smart city report we drafted some guidelines that could serve as basis for smart city policies.

These guidelines, in turn, are inspired by the de facto principles that shaped the open web in its early days: open source, openness, decentralization, bottom-up innovation.

For connected homes, these same principles might apply, with one difference: There should be a stronger focus on privacy and data protection.

1. The English version of the WBGU report is available at wbgu.de/en/flagship-reports/fr-2016-urbanization
2. An executive summary, some background, as well as our policy recommendations and further links can all be found at thewavingcat.com/2016/04/25/smart-cities-in-the-21c-humanity-on-the-move-the-transformative-power-of-cities

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