New digital info tools raise questions about uses of public space

New digital tools are making travel easier and more informative, but they are raising questions about the use of public space. Many of these applications are funded through partnerships with private entities which, presumably, are not getting something for nothing. New York City Transit’s new information kiosks, for example, will carry advertisements and also allow subway riders to search for near-by restaurant information using applications provided by restaurant guide Zagat and the social review website Mycity. While such applications provide a useful service to subway riders, they also raise questions about privacy. Every search tells these companies a little more about where people are going and what they want to do when they get there.

Chicago’s chief technology officer John Tolva has been thinking about these issues. He told Tech President’s Nick Judd that the city is considering developing standards for using the digital space.

Mostly I mean thinking through the role that the city can play in defining standards that make for an orderly, open, and fertile digital space. Not unlike cities lay the physical foundation of public spaces to afford certain kinds of uses…But more than anything I’m interested in making the city’s digital public spaces serve the resident or visitor. Not the other way around!

Or, as Tech President put it succinctly: “How much does your commute say about you, and who gets to know?” As cash-strapped agencies turn to private companies to help support digital tools in the public space, it’s time to address these questions about citizen privacy and appropriate use. Link to full story in Tech President.

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