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The Mayor of London The London Assembly

Safeguards and Sharing in ‘DataSmart’ Cities

The Digital Economy Challenge

The exchange and protection of personal and non-personal data is a critical challenge facing all cities across Europe.

In London, Lisbon and Milan, the Sharing Cities programme[1] is working to develop robust approaches to data security in the design and implementation of smart services.

Our work aims to meet the requirements of the new European general directive on data protection (GDPR), which comes into force in next May and is driving change in the European digital economy.

Personal Data and GDPR

The GDPR applies to personal data processing carried out by organisations operating within the EU. It also impacts organisations outside the EU that offer goods or services within the single market. The focus of GDPR is on the ‘controllers’ and ‘processors’ of personal data.

  • The Controller says what, how and why personal data is processed; and the Processor acts on the Controller’s behalf.
  • If you are a processor, you are required to maintain records of personal data and processing activities.
  • If you are a controller, you must ensure your contracts with processors comply with the GDPR.

What has become clear is that safeguarding privacy is just one purpose of GDPR. Through such measures the directive also aims to build consumer confidence in the future digital economy, of which Sharing Cities are very much a part.

However, not covered by GDPR is the question of access to non-personal datasets.

To help tackle these issues head on, I recently attended a European Commission (EC) workshop on the ‘Access to Data for Public Bodies to Privately Held Data’ on behalf of the Sharing Cities programme.

Non-Personal Data-Sharing

At the EC workshop, I discovered that privately-held non-personal data of a public interest is increasingly used by cities to improve services.

Amsterdam is using real-time aggregated travel data including origins and destinations, route information, and modes of transport to support local transport planning.

Hamburg is using privately held data to digitally map underground pipes and cables to help cope with the 4,000 requests for information each year originating from development projects.

So it would seem that greater sharing between city governments and the providers of non-personal data can increase the impact of the local digital assets and develop urban hi-tech solutions.

Using Data of a Public Interest in London

The Greater London Authority (GLA) has been progressing a range of existing projects in this area. The London Office of Data Analytics pilot project[2] has succeeded in bringing together a range of Borough data to explore how this can support identification of houses in multiple occupation.

The GLA is supporting a project by Policy in Practice which brings together anonymised Borough Housing Benefit data to understand welfare reform.

And the GLA is starting to work with civic society organisations to explore how we can make use of their data, for example, understanding the issues faced by vulnerable groups to support them more effectively.

Cooperatives for DataSmart Cities

But it is understood that while it might be easy to get a dialogue between cities and data owners, the reality of sharing is more difficult and progress can be slow.

It is also difficult, and probably politically unattractive, to enforce cooperation and sharing through regulation – not least because data holders could have legitimate commercial interests.

However, there may be ways to increase the willingness to share, which depends on factors, such as the tradability of data, benefitting both sides of the deal.

One suggestion is that cross-sector ‘data cooperatives’ could broker and share data, ensuring that cities and data providers reap the benefits in improved services. Cooperation could also help minimise and share the costs of exchanging data, such as anonymising digital records and translating them into a useable format.

Cooperatives could also be a huge help in the development and interpretation of data resulting in consistent benchmarking, statistics and intelligence that will boost city performance across Europe.

This is important because understanding data is yet an even bigger challenge than sharing it!

How are the Sharing Cities Grappling with Data?

As we make use of big data generated by city activities and interactions, the Sharing Cities programme and its member cities and partner organisations are likely to be exposed to significant amounts of commercial, personal and publicly generated data.

Building upon the work of the GLA and TfL to develop practical templates and processes that support good data governance,[3] Sharing Cities is developing use cases to understand what data is used, for what purposes and how they are handled. Working together, cities and their partners can assess privacy and ownership implications and understand their legal obligations regarding data protection.

The Sharing Cities programme also aims to deliver a carefully crafted city partnership model, an evaluation framework, and a set of protocols to identify and handle data. These deliverables, if supported by the European Commission, could combine to inform a legal basis that will encourage data collaboration across Europe and provide a template for cooperatives in DataSmart cities.


Sharing Cities is just a small part of the digital revolution sweeping urban streetscapes. Google says that organisations are increasingly analysing data, but they are only using about 0.5% of what is available. To meet the challenge of the digital economy, London will remain at the centre of European partnerships, such as the Sharing Cities programme.

These ‘DataSmart’ partnerships will, on one hand, protect digital rights and personal privacy. On the other hand, they can facilitate the use of city-generated data to promote innovation, urban growth and sustainable development.


[1] Sharing Cities is a programme supported by Horizon 2020, the European Union’s instrument to promote research, development and innovation. Sharing Cities fosters international collaboration between municipalities, citizens and industry to develop and share urban innovation and services that promote sustainable growth, reduce carbon emissions and mitigate climate change.

These smart and future city solutions cover citizen engagement, digital platforms and dashboards, dissemination of information, energy management, lampposts with motion and parking sensors, retrofitting of homes, and monitoring and evaluation of outcomes. And central to city innovation is the ability to capture, analyse and apply digital data.