Chicago to place listening posts across city to monitor weather and population

23 Jun 2014

Chicago is becoming ever-more like the version seen in the video game Watch Dogs as the city will soon have monitoring posts, starting with one to measure weather and population through mobile phone use.

The harmless-looking devices will first be placed along the Windy City’s Michigan Avenue later this summer and while looking like pieces of artwork they are essentially designed as an antenna and data-collection point for the city, dubbed by some as “the array of things.”

According to the Chicago Tribune, the devices, which will be curved in shape, will measure local weather information, such as air quality, noise pollution, heat and wind but, more importantly, will also use nearby mobile-phone activity to determine population levels and density.

While the obvious concerns are there regarding people’s right to privacy, one of the computer scientists on the project, Charlie Catlett, has said they have taken the necessary precautions and the devices will monitor contact with mobile phones but will not harvest any data with regard to the digital address of each device.

One of the most outspoken opponents of the devices’ introduction is Fred Cate, an expert with regard to privacy within technology who worries that despite Catlett’s reassurances, the influence of large corporations could push them to release certain information without the individual’s approval.

“If you spend a million dollars wiring these boxes, and a company comes in and says we’ll pay you a million dollars to collect personally identifiable information, what’s the oversight over those companies?” Cate asked.

All data from the monitoring stations are expected to be released online almost immediately after they have been installed sometime towards the end of July, which Chicago authorities hope will ease any fears the public may have.

City monitoring image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic