Who Trusts in the Smart City? Transparency, Governance and the Internet of Things

Naomi Jacobs* (Corresponding Author), Peter Edwards, Milan Markovic, Caitlin D. Cottrill, Karen Salt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
19 Downloads (Pure)


Internet of Things (IoT) devices such as connected sensors are increasingly being used in the public sector, often deployed and collecting data in public spaces. A theme commonly seen in the rhetoric surrounding public space IoT initiatives is empowerment, and these deployments are broadly perceived as beneficial by policy makers. However, such technology presents new governance challenges. It is important to ask who is empowered and who benefits, and we must ensure that such technological interventions follow democratic principles and are trusted by citizens.

In this paper we investigate how risk, transparency and data governance require careful consideration in this domain, describing work which investigates how these combine to form components of trusted IoT ecosystems. This includes an overview of the landscape of public space IoT deployments, consideration of how they may often be subsumed in idealized smart city focused rhetoric, and discussion of how methodologies such as design fiction in community settings can uncover potential risks and concerns. Our findings suggest that agency, value and intent associated with IoT systems are key components that must be made transparent, particularly when multiple actors and stakeholders are involved.

We suggest that good governance requires consideration of these systems in their entirety, throughout the full planning, implementation and evaluation process, and in consultation with multiple stakeholders who are impacted, including the public. To achieve this effectively, we argue for transparency at the device and system level, which may require legislative change.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere11
Number of pages9
JournalData & Policy
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jul 2020

Bibliographical note


We would like to thank the community of Tillydrone in Aberdeen for giving their time to this project.
A version of this work was previously made available for the Data for Policy conference 2019 (Jacobs et al, 2019)

Data availability statement: The qualitative data collected as part of this research is not openly available, but may be accessed for research purposes by contacting the authors. This is for ethical reasons, due to the nature of the consent given by participants who contributed to the research.

Funding statement:

This research was funded through the TrustLens project, supported by the award made by the RCUK Digital Economy programme to the University of Aberdeen; award reference: EP/N028074/1. The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.


  • Internet of Things
  • Accountability
  • Transparency
  • Trust
  • Public Space


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