As we dig deeper into the subject of Smart City data ownership, it becomes evident that the landscape is much more complex than what it appears at first glance. Data ownership, even in a wholly government-funded initiative, is far from clear-cut. It’s a veritable minefield of legal, ethical, and economic questions that need to be addressed.

The Stakeholders in Data Ownership

In a smart city ecosystem, a myriad of stakeholders comes into play: the government, private companies, citizens, and third-party service providers, among others. Each stakeholder contributes to the data pool and has a vested interest in its use.

For instance, private companies investing in smart city projects would want a return on their investment, which could come from monetizing the data they help generate. Citizens, on the other hand, are inherently concerned about their privacy and how their data is used, shared, or sold.

The Ethical Aspect of Data Ownership

When it comes to data generated in a smart city, the ethical dimensions cannot be ignored. Whether it’s ethical to monetize data that should ideally be ‘public’ is a major consideration. Suppose the data is generated as part of a Public Private Partnership (PPP) project. In that case, there’s a moral obligation to consider it as public data, regardless of the percentage of public investment.

However, this raises another question: how do we reconcile the need for free public data with the commercial interests of private companies involved in smart city projects?

The Economic Paradigm

One possible solution to this conundrum could be the creation of a new economic paradigm. This could involve a model where private companies are compensated for their investment and services while ensuring the data remains free and open for public use.

For instance, a subscription model could be explored. Here, advanced or ‘premium’ data services could be offered to citizens or businesses willing to pay while basic data access remains free. The profits from these premium services could then be used to fund the infrastructure and compensate private partners.

The Legal Conundrum

Another major issue that arises is the legal ownership of the data. In many jurisdictions, the law is still catching up to the realities of the digital world. This is particularly true in the case of data ownership in smart cities.

While some countries have stringent regulations regarding data privacy and ownership, others lag. This inconsistency can lead to conflicts and complications in multi-jurisdictional smart city projects. An internationally accepted standard or guideline on data ownership, privacy, and usage in smart cities could be a way forward.

The Data Democracy

Finally, there’s the idea of ‘data democracy’ — the belief that citizens should have the right to access, use, and benefit from data collected about them or their city. This could involve mechanisms for citizens to decide how their data is used or the establishment of community-owned data trusts that govern data access and use.



These raised several issues.

  • How do we share the data?
  • If infrastructure is being paid for by the Councils or the States, it belongs to the citizens and should be given free or made open
  • How do we monetize the smart cities data when it should be made “free.”
  • Some countries stated that even a 1% investment from the Public in any PPP (Public Private Partnership) project has to be considered as Public data
  • What’s the best business model in smart cities when the government is not willing or can’t afford to implement such solutions?

In conclusion, the question of who owns smart city data is far from settled. It’s a multifaceted issue that will evolve as smart cities become more prevalent. As we navigate this new frontier, we must strive to balance the interests of all stakeholders to ensure that our smart cities are not just technologically advanced but also equitable, democratic, and respectful of individual rights.

What do you think? How should we approach the question of data ownership in smart cities? Let’s discuss this in the comments section below.

About the Author

Dr. Mazlan Abbas is an IOT Evangelist, Thought Leader and CEO of FAVORIOT You can reach him on LinkedIn at or Twitter at . Check all presentation slides HERE.
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