You do have something to hide

Hi, it has been a while but I’m back. Cities in Capitals is back on track 🙂

I read some interesting things last months. This book for example:


For the non-Dutch speaking readers, you can translate the title of the book like this: ‘You do have something to hide’. It’s about privacy and how we deal with it today.

It’s witten by two reporters of ‘De Correspondent’. An independent news company in the Netherlands that’s is well-appreciated for its eye-opening articles and profond research, recently they decided to also write in English.

Regarding my interest in smart cities, I had to read this book. Like I already wrote in one of my previous blogposts, privacy is one of the biggest challenges for smart cities in the near future so the link was obvious.

What I have learnt about our data:

  1. The saying ‘I have nothing to hide’ is ridiculous. The point is that today you don’t know what they know about you and what they do with it. When I talk about ‘they’ I talk about Facebook, Google, governement and others.
  2. You give up your privacy via various ways: websites and their cookies, smartphones with their apps, mailings, messaging, Internet of Things (security camera’s, printers, even your freakin’ refrigerator,…), wifi networks (easy peasy to hack it)
  3. We make it hackers so easy by using the dumbest passwords

We are misled by the ‘secure’ interfaces of smart things and don’t know what’s behind it. Smart equals hackable. Enters smart cities.

The government collects loads of data from its citizens. But despite our right of privacy, there is no place where we can access all the personal data they collect. They own a bunch of databases, all connected with each other but there is zero overview. No ‘superdatabase’ where you can log in and have a look.

This freaks me out a bit.

Obvious next question: what do they use all our data for? Well, tax authorities use it to do their job. According to the law in the Netherlands the tax authorities can access all the data that are ‘tax related’, but today everything is ‘tax related’… You get the point.

How deep do they dive? Well, they do their very best.

The tax authorities have access to the data of SMS parking services for example. You probably know how it works. You pay your parking spot via a text message to the parking provider. A Dutch company of SMS parking resisted to give this data but after a lawsuit they had to. So this means that through this data the government knows where you were, for how long,…


They also have access to all licence plate registrations on the road. You use a company car for a limited number of kilometers? The government can check it without you knowing it.

The tax authorities can give their data to other departements of the government. The problem? They make mistakes. Databases are wrongly merged. Hello Kafka.

Besides the governement, you also have the Frightful Five: Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Alphabet, the parent company of Google. Free services (hooray!) that you pay with your privacy (bummer).

But hey, don’t we all have the right to be forgotten by Google?

That’s correct. In Belgium 15.919 people asked Google to forget more than 100.000 links. Google deleted 46% of them.

But you also have the so called ‘data brokers’. They sell our on – and offline data to advertisers and marketeers. The biggest is Acxiom. They put us in a target group like for example ‘Music-lovers’ because you liked Ed Sheeran on Facebook and just like that, you are sold to a music company.

So you have the governement on one side, and private companies on the other side. Sometimes they meet in the middle.

An example.

The Dutch police work together with Coosto, a company that scans social media during big events. And TomTom, Google and Amsterdam give each other location based data to visualize traffic flows. And Google also receives data from sensors from cities to update their users on the traffic jams.

The governement can take it a step further. A glossary:

  • Predictive policing: through data they predict our (bad) behaviour (already done by the city Apeldoorn)
  • Nudging: through data they change our behaviour

But also the private companies do this:

  • Persuasion profiles: through data they know which sales argument important is for you
  • Behavioral targeting: through data they predict our behaviour ( = nudging for private companies)

This results in ‘social sorting‘, people are sorted into specif profiles (this is done when you travel to the United States for example with the ATS-P-database) and treated accordingly.

You get a society based on scores. Each of us gets a score for his or her behaviour. China does it already. Freaks me out a lot.


What if your data is wrong? What if your rights are based on an algorithme generated via wrong data? Aren’t you inconcent untill proven guilty, no matter how fancy predictive policing is?

Some call it subliminal manipulation, without knowing it we are gently pushed / manipulated in a certain direction.

Makes me think about National Geographic. Like animals in the Zoo. Behind invisible bars.

Most of the times it are the private companies that are accused of influecing our behaviour via data. What I have learnt is that the governement is doing just the same. More and more they are nudging via Big Data. Not that profond like Google or Facebook according to the book.

So back to the beginning: do we have something to hide?

I believe so. Some call it the ‘Black Box Society‘, you don’t have a clue of how the black boxes work. And who is the gatekeeper?

And what about smart cities?

Today I read this: Citymapper Smartbus. An interesting project about smart mobility in the city but now I know the above, it made me think about my taxes.


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