Thinking About the “Gaps” in Urban Mobility Research: Susan Shaheen on Data Security, Privacy and Sovereignty

December 2, 2018

Susan Shaheen sitting in a vehicle

Lily Maxwell, smart cities content writer for, interviews Susan Shaheen Ph.D., a pioneer in future mobility strategies. She was among the first to observe, research, and write about changing dynamics in shared mobility and the likely scenarios through which automated vehicles will gain prominence. She is an internationally recognized expert in mobility and the sharing economy.

People talk a lot about data — and in particular, data security, privacy, self-sovereignty, and big data — at the moment. How can the academic and research sector go about collecting data in the right way to make urban mobility more equitable and sustainable?

Susan: The data question is a really important one. First of all, big data are not nearly as “amazing” as they are messy. It helps to know what you are looking for in a big dataset, and you almost always end up discarding a lot of erroneous data.

There are two key fundamental issues at play in private-sector mobility data: first, the proprietary interests of the private sector and second, PII (or the Personal Identifiable Information of the individual). These are both real issues that have to be carefully navigated. These considerations apply to most, if not all, entities working with these data: academics, companies, individuals, and governments.

In research, figuring out how to access and manage sensitive data is something we need to work on. At present, we have to introduce a lot of obscurity to protect privacy and proprietary considerations. In other words, we have to go to higher levels of aggregation in our analysis. This offers benefits but can limit our understanding...

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