London Authority Seeks Views On Personal Data And ‘Smart London’

The public survey will look for opinions on how personal data should be exploited, in the wake of earlier data protection scandals

London authorities are planning to conduct a public survey in the coming days on personal data and how it should be used in the upcoming Smart London plan.

The survey will be conducted over the Greater London Authority’s (GLA) Talk London platform, which has a user base of about 41,000 people, and will be open to anyone, London chief digital officer Theo Blackwell said at the ShareDigital conference last week.

The new Smart London plan is part of mayor Sadiq Khan’s initiative to make the capital the ‘smartest city in the world’, and it is expected to make heavy use of the large amounts of data generated by Londoners and held by public bodies.

But such projects don’t always necessarily sit well with the individuals whose data is being used, as notably came to light when Google’s DeepMind tried to use hospital data in an artificial intelligence project. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) ruled last year that deal broke data protection laws.

London chief digital officer Theo Blackwell. Credit: Theo Blackwell

Privacy at risk?

Blackwell acknowledged “hypersensitivity” around privacy but said such issues can be resolved by providing “the right safeguards”.

“Data is a great benefit and we need to start loudly setting that out,” he told the conference, according to public sector news website UK Authority.

He said data from schools, further education and other areas could help to reduce inefficiencies in government.

The new Smart London plan is set to be published at London Tech Week in June, a year after the scheme was announced. Blackwell’s appointment in August of last year was a key part of driving the plan forward.

Initially GLA is planning to work with Bloomberg Associates to build infrastructure for making use of data, following a similar Bloomberg project in New York City, Blackwell said.

He said he wants to move on from systems such as synchronised traffic lights to making London “the capital of artificial intelligence and data innovation”.

Tech hub

In launching an earlier “listening exercise” for Smart London, the GLA said it was looking to find out “how innovation from data can be truly mobilised by public services in partnership with London’s world class science, tech, finance and design communities”.

Amongst Blackwell’s other responsibilities is organising the a London Office for Technology and Innovation (LOTI), announced by Khan at last year’s London Tech Week.

Khan spoke at the South by Southwest technology and media festival on Monday, the first British politician to do so, where he warned that tech firms face tougher regulation if they don’t find ways to rein in their often negative social side-effects.

London is currently regarded as Europe’s leading technology hub, with more than 47,000 digital technology firms employing about 240,000 people.

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