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It’s another step in Seattle’s march to the future, a world where the street grid adapts to congestion, construction, accidents and football games in real-time. And as the city works to build a framework for vetting new technologies, struggling at times to keep pace with the speed of technology, it is also driving privacy advocate nuts.
The Skywave antennas are part of a larger system installed by a company called Acyclica. The readers are placed along a street corridor, creating a Wi-Fi signal. As a car passes one of the readers, any wireless device – phone, tablet, Bluetooth, car sensor – leaves a mark. As that same device passes through the next intersection, it gets pinged again. As the car passes more readers, algorithms are run to calculate speed, distance, time and general behavior.
It’s hard to talk about data without raising the issue of privacy, however. The new system works because cellphones and tablets have their own identifying numbers called media access control or MAC addresses. As you drive down Mercer Street or 2nd Ave or 23rd, it can tell that it’s the same device pinging the string of antennas at the streetlights.
The issue for Robinson is that the city does not own the technology; a private contractor does. Rather than develop its own system, SDOT found it would be cheaper and more effective to pay a service fee to get it up and running. When SDOT first experimented with the Bluetooth readers, they hired Acyclica, based out of Boulder, Colorado. The city was satisfied with the product so gave Acyclica a contract to build out the Wi-Fi reader infrastructure. More recently, SDOT added four more vendors — Digimax, Quality Counts, Western Systems and IDAX — to its vendor pool, meaning any of them may be used to expand the already existing data network.
The president of one of the other four vendors, who didn’t want to be named for fear of hurting his company’s chances at more work, says it stores data for up to five years. But, as at Acyclica, the data goes through a “one-way encryption” process and “only a very smart person working for a lifetime could decode the information. We have no desire to track individuals,” he says.
The Seattle Department of Transportation is proposing a plan to take a lane of traffic for a bike lane on Fifth Avenue. (AP) Comments Share 185 Tweet 6 Share Share Another day, another ideologically-driven, nonsensical bike lane plan being proposed by the Seattle Department of Transportation and I suspect they've been doing their hardest to make sure this one didn't get out for us to ridicule and perhaps stop. Mike Lindblom reports that SDOT wants to take away a lane from another highly congested stretch and turn it over to bikes, even though the demand is remarkably and embarrassingly low. Under a proposed SDOT plan, Fifth Avenue in Seattle — the street that shares the road with the monorail no one takes — would lose a car lane for a dedicated bike lane that no one will take except the employees at City Hall. Right now, you've got three lanes that are perpetually full during the morning and afternoon commutes (Fifth Avenue sees about 13,000 cars and trucks a day, on average). In fact, that whole area is incredibly congested with cars. It once took me an hour to get from Belltown to Eastlake in the middle of the afternoon. It normally takes about seven minutes. But because SDOT Director Scott Kubly is a bike activist, as is Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, they're using SDOT to push their anti-car ideology.