Blog Post: Long Beach Data WalksRelease Date: 2022-12-01
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Blog post compiled by Katherine Sanchez, Digital Innovation Fellow
In Summer 2022, two summer fellows for the Long Beach Smart City Initiative launched the first version of a Digital Rights Signage and Platform that aims to inform the public of the City’s technology deployment and data collection practices. This project was spurred by community outreach conducted by the City and its partners that revealed the public’s overall concerns, unawareness, and uncertainty surrounding the City’s usage of technologies and data systems (read more about these findings here).The new Digital Rights Platform and digital rights notice signs seek to improve the usability and accessibility of our smart city technologies, enhance visibility of smart city technologies, and provide a more robust and responsive channel for community input.
To engage community members and obtain user feedback on the digital rights notice signs that are displayed in Downtown Long Beach, we conducted four “data walks” during October 2022, facilitated by City staff and CSULB Professor Gwen Shaffer. We welcomed more than 40 participants—representing diverse ages, ethnicities, zip codes and education levels. They shared their perspectives on data privacy, as well as their experiences interacting with City technology and the Digital Rights Platform and its linked signage. Specifically, participants shared their thoughts on the digital rights notice signs linked to the Eco Totem and License Plate Recognition technology located near The Promenade in Downtown Long Beach. This feedback will help inform future development of the Digital Rights Platform, ensuring that the signage is useful and meets community needs. The Data Walks were held at different days and times to accommodate participant schedules, and food and drinks were provided. We compensated community members for their time and input with gift cards.
What We Heard
Appreciation of data transparency by the City: Local governments, like the City of Long Beach, are now deploying “smart” tools like communication technologies and sensors to address issues that range from traffic congestion to poor air quality and housing shortages. Many Data Walk participants initially expressed concerns regarding data privacy and use of personal data by the City and third-party vendors. These findings validate the need for systems such as the Digital Rights Platform and informational signage that incorporates transparency to ensure that residents are not forced to guess how the City is sharing or analyzing their data.
After learning about the platform and interacting with the signage, participants expressed appreciation for the City’s active efforts to increase data transparency with community members. When asked about their thoughts on the platform and linked signage, one participant expressed, “I was surprised that the City is letting us know about data collection practices,” while another participant stated, "It’s not just a question of trust, it's a question of transparency, and it is only fair that the City let’s people know that it is happening.”A third participant also stated, “I think it is good that the City wants to tell you they are using your data. The more you can make informed decisions the better. Builds trust within the community.” The City’s initiative to inform the public about emerging technologies and data collection practices was met with overall positive feedback as the average rating for the platform’s online experience was 8.9/10.
The technology’s data collection matters: A primary finding from the Data Walks is that participants’ level of comfort with a technology is directly tied to the type and amount of personally identifiable information collected by that technology. When comparing the featured technologies, participants expressed a greater need to learn more about data collection practices related to License Plate Recognition because, unlike the Eco Totem, this technology collects identifiable information about vehicle registrations.
Participants expressed feeling less comfortable with the City collecting personally identifiable data due to data privacy concerns, especially out of fear of potential data leaks and personal information being sold to third parties. Concern of over-surveillance by law enforcement agencies was another prevalent theme in our conversations regarding the collection of identifiable vs. unidentifiable data. Many individuals expressed willingness to trade some level of data privacy for perceived benefits of greater public safety and efficiency, while others expressed concern about who has access to their personal information and the potential for it to be used in unanticipated ways.
Group discussions also informed us how participants were much less concerned about data privacy notices when technology is used to harvest unidentifiable data on traffic congestion and “crowd sensing” instead of their personal information to track transit or city planning.
Residents fear becoming inundated with too many City digital rights notice signs: Overall, Data Walk participants expressed the need to access a wide range of information about the City’s public facing technology and data, particularly about ones they are generally uncomfortable with.This led to conversations regarding what City technologies should and should not have data privacy notices displayed to avoid possible signage fatigue within the community. One participant shared stated:
“My concern is that people will ignore the signs. It is important that weunderstand the amount of data we are giving up tolive in a society. But if you are inundated with Data Privacy signs, at some point they stop being relevant, and the information slips to the back of the mind. We don't want to get bogged down on trying to meet every single person’s concern. There is a cost benefit analysis so we should focus on the [technologies] that have the most relevant, salient impact in an individual’s life.”
This sentiment was echoed by numerous folks throughout our four Data Walks. Many expressed the need for strategic and targeted signage placement, specifically in low-income and communities of color in Long Beach, to effectively inform community members about data privacy and implemented smart city technologies without overwhelming the public with information. This supports the need for the City to conduct further community outreach efforts to identify what technologies the community is interested in learning more about through the Digital Rights Platform and informational signage.
We need to improve the placement of signs linked to the Digital Rights Platform: One of the primary goals for this series of Data Walks was to collect feedback on the placement of signs linked to the Digital Rights Platform. The City is interested in learning about the public’s perspective of the signs, their selected locations, design, and content. Many participants expressed concerns regarding the sign’s placement as they felt the signs were “easy to miss” and “not eye-catching” enough to pedestrians. One participant stated, “Oddly enough, it was easy to miss. I didn't notice it until it was pointed out. I think my brain is conditioned to just ignore signs as background information. I find it interesting that Inoticed the Eco Totem, but not the sign.” A second participant followed this comment by suggesting that if the sign had been posted onthe Eco Totem itself, it would have been more noticeable and accessible to the public.
When asked about the signs featuring License Plate Recognition technology inside Parking Lot C near Harvey Milk Promenade Park, participants said that the signs could be made larger to make them more conspicuous. Others expressed the need for these signs to be mounted on City infrastructures, such as pay stations inside the parking structures.
Signs need to display the “right” information: Various participants also shared the need to include more information on the measures and practices that are in place by the City to protect the data that is collected. One participant shared their thoughts by stating, “I’m not as worried about what is collected as I am about how long it is kept and who has access to it. That’s more concerning for me.” Another participant echoed this sentiment by sharing, “I am open to city collecting data. But I’m concerned if the city collecting data and it is leaking to someone else. It would be good to mention on the platform about what kind of management the City does to keep data safe. We have nothing to do with data collection, it is happening. But I need to know if it is secure.”
These conversations highlight community concerns around data retention and security practices. Questions surrounding the security of data collected by the City were prevalent in our conversations with community members. We discovered that the lack of transparency on data protection policies often leaves residents feeling exploited and distrustful of how their data is being stored by the City and accessed by third party vendors.These sentiments on privacy norms and expectations will guide future development of thevirtual Digital Rights Platform and digital rights notice signage.
One of our top priorities is translating the virtual Digital Rights Platform website into Khmer, Tagalog, and Spanish so it is accessible tonon-English-speaking community members. Additionally, the first four Long Beach Data Walks gave us great insights into actionable next steps:
- Display more information about the technologies used, data collected and stored on each system description to increase transparency.
- Deploy more technologies beyond the two currently seen in Downtown Long Beach.
- Continue partnering with various organizations throughout the City to promote the program’s visibility, especially in communities of color and other underserved communities in Long Beach.