Pro’s and Con’s of Future Gazing on Data Use

Future gazing on data use, robotics and bio-technology in the housing sector – the pros and cons to be debated!

The speed and increasing accessibility of collective information technology developments can bring significant improvements to housing, but not without risks to privacy, data protection and human rights. These are to be debated at the Welsh Tenants conference in September.

Information technology (IT) has progressed significantly in recent years, so much so, there are now huge emerging opportunities for social landlords to provide beneficial value for money services that enhance the rental experience for their tenants/leaseholders.

For landlords it brings interesting opportunities to understand better the services we want (and perhaps don’t want), and provide opportunities to enhance the housing and support services received by renters.

‘Big data’ for example is about making use of warehoused data that sit on servers. The use of big data extends an opportunity to assess and analyse the performance of capital investments such as heating systems, helping the sector employ better value for money investments through comparative analysis of breakdowns of different systems. This can accrue significant savings avoiding costly mistakes in procurement. While on the extremes, algorithms can be employed to analyse trends such as when a system is more likely to breakdown and what part.

Our homes are also getting smarter. With the decreasing cost of sensory products that mimic the human senses being able to see, hear, smell and even touch our home environment. Having the ability to record that data and turn it into intelligent information about our life patterns could be useful for a whole range of support services interventions.

There are also opportunities through ‘digital inclusion’ projects to better enable to support and obtain access to better deals for non-housing related expenditure helping to cut the cost of utilities, car insurance and other purchases.

The more people that can obtain affordable internet access, the more we can prevent the disadvantage of captured consumers unable to access discounted online markets.

More disposable income suggests we are better able to afford to pay rents charged. Indeed, it can potentially determine how much rent a landlord could charge and what contribution we can pay to providing the next generation of homes. So there’s a huge advantage to landlords being able to turn data into beneficial knowledge.

Of course, access to the world wide web can also enable people to be better informed, (the foundation stone for initiating involvement), landlords are then able to be more transparent and accountable for their performance and the accessibility of certain services.

More than 86% of us now have access to 3G mobile phone technology and the applications being developed on android and i phones can put the process of ordering and arranging appointments for repairs in the hands of the renter, freeing up staff resources that currently process repair request chains – and direct them to other critical work.

Of course, being perceived to ‘know the tenant well’, can, enable the landlord to provide a number of public policy interventions, such as health, child protection, public safety, lifestyle choices and financial stability.

There is even a compelling argument for the relevance of casual surveillance to ensure the landlord can comply with their ‘duty of care’ or adhere to their obligation to provide peace and quiet and enjoyment of the home. And finally, but by no means lastly, the advent of robot and bio-technology can through 3 & 4D printing be able to print food! providing specific dietary requirements in extra care schemes or prescribe medicines depending on the individuals constantly monitored bio-data.

The alarming thing, is that all this has developed in a remarkably short period of time compared to for example, the industrial revolution.

There are no doubt some positive public policy interventions to be accrued, but each leap in innovation can expose concerns. Who is keeping a check on how far we go with the collective developments in IT, and is everyone sufficiently up to speed with balancing the rights of citizens with the opportunities that are presenting themselves.

What are the concerns of renters about the use of enhanced data gathering by contractors and monitoring the third party risk in relation to cyber-crime as we open up our lives to the cloud. What are the consequences for not ensuring compliance to data protection, information commissioner guidance, privacy laws, cyber-crime, security of tenure, consumer rights, other tenancy obligations, existing human rights or any Uk proposed bill of rights?

Examining what could be possible with drones, social media profiling and other technologies does bring huge moral and ethical concerns that need to be weighed against perceived advantages, but more importantly to whom those advantages weigh most and for what social gain.

Does the sector have a strategy for the use and control of information technology, and whose monitoring policy developments, how can information technology be best employed to improve services without compromising privacy, human rights and consumer protection?

We have seen how the non-recorded ‘off the record’ information gathering can be used to disenfranchise tenants from obtaining accommodation in the private rented sector – what’s preventing this from happening in the social sector and the undermining tenants security of tenure?

We have also seen how sheltered schemes are being converted to independent living schemes however, with the same tenancy agreements in place as if they were receiving care and support! and the introduction of keyless entry systems. While the seemingly proliferation of contractors being instructed to gather intelligence on the occupants when undertaking repair work adding to the profiling information.

It’s time we had a discussion about the perceived benefits, and the risks for renters, to ensure that the strategy (if one exists) and the tactics employed, are both transparent fair, morally acceptable and properly monitored and regulated.

Want to debate this subject more widely, or do you have something interesting to contribute? Then join us on Friday morning at the Welsh Tenants conference on the 23rd September 2016 or email steve@welshtenants.org.uk

Future gazing plenary

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