Siemens HK CEO: No conflict between open data and privacy

Privacy concern is widely seen as a barrier to the development of open data in Hong Kong (Photo credit: iStockPhoto)
Eric Chong, CEO, Siemens
Hong Kong

Open data - data that can be freely used, shared and built-on by anyone, anywhere, for any purpose – is essential in the development of smart cities. But privacy concerns have always been seen as a stumbling block for the collection and sharing of data.

“There is no conflict between data that is used in a smart city and privacy. In a way, we are talking about two different things,” Eric Chong, CEO, Siemens Hong Kong, told Computerworld Hong Kong at last week’s StartmeupHK Festival 2018 in Wan Chai.

“When we talk about smart city data, we are dealing with data that are already processed – what we called anonymized,” he said. “There are very strict rules that you must anonymize the data. You need to package the data, so we only look at what the data can give up in terms of trends and big data, and we don’t look at who is in the data,” Chong said.

Bucking against common perception, Chong sees that open data and privacy ‘comes hand in hand” in the development of smart cities.

“If smart city development grows and if IoT development grows, it is going to get into everybody’s lives,” he said. “For sure, there would be risks to privacy; therefore, a tightening of data privacy is perhaps warranted. But that does not mean that it will impact smart city development.”

He added: “To me as a citizen, I have more assurance that data privacy is there through the legal structure. Then, I am more willing to give the data to somebody to do the analysis.”

Chong noted that Hong Kong has strong data privacy rules and that they are well-enforced.

“I have to say, however, that the landscape is changing. We do need to keep our data privacy law stringent, while keeping up with the technology,” he said.

In reiterating that no conflict exists between open data and privacy in smart city development, he added: “On one hand, we are dealing with knowledge. On the other hand, we are dealing with privacy information. We do not need privacy information to get big data analytics.”

From data ownership to data sharing

In today’s digital economy where data is the main currency, it is difficult to get private companies to share data, which they see as corporate assets.

Chong acknowledged that it is a challenge that is yet to be resolved.

“Without access to data, you do not knowledge and you do not have smart. And once we have collected enough data, how do we share and use the data for the benefit of all?” he said. “We may have to modify our expectations a bit. How do we convert ownership to sharing? I think there is really where you have a change of mindset.”

Chong cited Siemen’s MindSphere, a cloud-based IoT system, as an example.

“We say it is open because if you have a close system, whatever data you put on MindSphere becomes ours. But when you put data on the platform, you still own the data. So we say to our customers, you give us the data, we analyze the outcome, but we do not own the data. That is the difference between ownership, usage and sharing. You have to look at it differently. If you link ownership with usage, then you would be a bit lost in this new environment,” Chong said.

Siemens has made its MindSphere platform available for Hong Kong’s first Smart City Digital Hub, which opened last December, at the Science Park. The project consists of partnerships between Siemens, HKSTP and private sector stakeholders such as CLP and the MTR Corporation.”

“We are working with infrastructure providers to get more efficiency out of their assets, to improve availability of assets and so on.”

“For the Connected City Solutions, we are looking at simple apps that needed data collection throughout the city. In the area of transportation, we have smart lamp posts in the front end, and at the backend, we are working how to make use of all the data from the smart lamp posts to create solutions for our citizens to make their journey quicker and easier,” Chong said.