Cities are experimenting with new kinds of digitally augmented street furniture that recombine urban forms, like benches, pay phones and advertising billboards, with digital technologies such as free wi-fi, sensors and digital screens (Wessels & Humphry et al., 2020). The offer of free digital services is a key selling-point for local governments confronting urban digital inequalities, ageing public utilities and state withdrawal from public infrastructure investments. This talk reports on findings from two studies, the first: on LinkNYC, a city-wide implementation of smart kiosks in New York City; the second: on the design, use and governance of InLinkUK smart kiosks in Glasgow and Strawberry Energy smart benches in London, conducted as part of an international collaboration with the University of Glasgow. These studies found that precariously connected media users such as the street homeless, students and gig workers, rely on these services to maintain access but are exposed to new kinds of security and safety risks at the point of connection. These asymmetrical connections include: 'insecure connections' because of lack of support for wireless encryption in low-end Android devices; 'reduced physical safety' as kiosk and bench services are accessed in open public spaces, 'greater exposure to commercial data exploitation' and 'to police and legal enforcement' since even with privacy protections in place there is potential for data and footage to be shared with third parties including enforcement agencies. Despite users making strategic trade-offs in their engagement with these urban objects, these are not enough to overcome the asymmetries encoded in their design.
Note the changed time.
Justine Humphry is a Lecturer in Digital Cultures in the Department of Media and Communications at the University of Sydney. She researches the cultures and politics of digital media and emerging technologies with a focus on the social consequences of mobile, smart and data-driven technologies. Her research addresses the materialisation of smart cities and the datafication of urban life with a focus on the mediation of home and urban space through smart street furniture, smart voice assistants and robotics.