Smart city platforms–encompassing mobile apps, cameras, sensors, algorithms, and predictive analytics—generate troves of data on residents. Research suggests that excessive surveillance reinforces a sense of insecurity and leads residents to fear civil liberties violations, particularly among communities of color. Our digital rights platform will empower community members by granting them agency over how the City collects, uses and stores their personal data. The platform will be designed collaboratively with hundreds of Long Beach residents participating in a civic user testbed and other qualitative data collection. The platform will feature text and open-source iconography that visually conveys how the City of Long Beach uses specific technologies, what data these technologies collect and how the City utilizes that data. We plan to strategically deploy signage across Long Beach, physically adjacent to or digitally embedded within civic technologies, e.g., sensors, cameras, mobile payment kiosks, a 311 app. The platform will include a QR code or hyperlink that take users to an online dashboard where they may learn additional details, update data collection preferences, and share comments and concerns with local officials—giving residents a clear understanding of how local government collects, analyzes, shares, and retains their personal data. This digital rights platform will feature text and the open-source iconography that visually conveys how the City of Long Beach uses specific smart technologies, what data these technologies collect and how the City utilizes that data. The platform considers the technical, legal, ethical, and spatial aspects of smart technologies. Grounded in frameworks of trust and contextual integrity, the project is focused on the City’s vision to use data in ethical ways that avoid reinforcing existing racial biases and discriminatory decision-making. Specifically, we plan to strategically deploy signage across Long Beach, physically adjacent to or digitally embedded within civic technologies, e.g., sensors, cameras, mobile payment kiosks, a 311 app. The platform will include a QR code or hyperlink that take users to an online dashboard where they may learn additional details, update data collection preferences, and share comments and concerns with local officials. We plan to work with smart city technology developers to create a software solution that will, ultimately, enable residents to opt out of data collection. The project will inform novel accountability strategies meant to ensure that wildly disparate smart city technologies—each employed for a distinct purpose—respect residents’ data privacy and avoid discriminatory impacts.This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.
Gwen Shaffer is a professor in the Department of Journalism and Public Relations and Director of Research for the College of Liberal Arts. Her telecommunications policy research examines the complex nature of social exclusion in the informational age. Her current research focuses on the data privacy implications of “smart city” technologies such as surveillance cameras, automated license plate readers and sensors. She is the principal investigator on a National Science Foundation-funded project focused on the City of Long Beach’s vision to use data in ethical ways that avoid reinforcing existing racial biases and discriminatory decision-making. Shaffer served on the City of Long Beach’s Technology and Innovation Commission—which advises the mayor and City Council on relevant policy and initiatives—from January 2015 until December 2022. (She chaired the Commission from January 2019 until her term ended). In this role, Shaffer contributed to policies involving digital inclusion and equity; the City’s use of surveillance technologies; the City’s open data portal; and Long Beach’s Smart City initiative. Shaffer designed and teaches JOUR 360/Culture and Politics of the Internet. In this course, students consider the economic, legal and networking aspects of prominent telecommunications policy issues. They engage in critical debate about how to regulate technologies integral to their daily lives. Shaffer’s research has published in the International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction; the Journal of Information Policy; Media, Culture & Society; First Monday; and the Association for Computing Machinery’s Transactions on Internet Technology, among other journals. The National Science Foundation; the John Randolph and Dora Haynes Foundation; the Media, Inequality & Change Center; and METRANS Transportation Center have funded her research. Prior to attending graduate school, Shaffer worked as a reporter for more than a dozen years. She covered local politics for the Philadelphia City Paper and Philadelphia Weekly, and was an editorial assistant at National Public Radio in Washington, D.C. Her freelance articles have been published in The New Republic, Columbia Journalism Review, The Nation, E/The Environmental Magazine, Philadelphia magazine, and the Philadelphia Inquirer, among other publications. Shaffer earned her Ph.D. in mass media and communication from Temple University in Philadelphia. Before joining the faculty at CSULB, she was a postdoctoral fellow in the computer science department at the University of California, Irvine.