Sensors, Privacy, Data, and the High-Tech Workplace

A Think Tank panel discussion hosted at AECOM’s office in Los Angeles mulled over the consequences of building integrated data capture and analytics.
AECOM workplace technology data capture

The panelists, from left to right: Avinash Rajagopal, Metropolis editor-in-chief; Doug Sitzes, AECOM’s Western regional workplace leader for strategy; Michael Rosenberg, associate at Kirkland & Ellis, LLP; Brian Pratt, assistant vice chancellor and campus architect for the University of California, Irvine; and Alastair MacGregor, VP and building engineering director for AECOM. Courtesy AECOM


In light of recent data breaches embroiling Facebook and other tech giants, perhaps we ought to be more concerned about safeguarding our online identities than we actually are. What accounts for this ambivalence? And does this virtual exchange stop even once we’ve logged off?

In short—no. A December 2018 Think Tank panel discussion hosted at AECOM’s office in Los Angeles mulled over the consequences of building integrated data capture and analytics.

The conversation kicked off with panelist Michael Rosenberg’s legalistic framing of the issues: “The law has yet to catch up with and know how to deal with all of this data in terms of privacy. If you provide information to a third party, you have a right to privacy [for that data].” Rosenberg, who is an associate at Kirkland & Ellis, LLP, was reassuring, but he also acknowledged that the scale and scope of data collection continues to change. “[N]otions of consent get blurred,” he said. “It can quickly become not a choice. It’s really the general public who should make the ultimate decision regarding privacy.”

Architects, responding to client demand, use ever more sophisticated tracking and sensor technologies in their designs—and they have been doing so for some time. Alastair MacGregor, VP and building engineering director for AECOM, observed that “buildings have been tracking you for 20 years, but now you can take data sets and make them mean something interesting,” namely through occupant analytics that reflect movement and use patterns.

AECOM workplace technology data capture

Visitors were given a tour through AECOM’s office ahead of the panel discussion. Courtesy AECOM


Of course, the issue has a more nefarious edge to it. All harvested data has the potential to be used to evaluate an employee’s efficiency or his/her location, not exactly what you would call “fair use.” This could mean that people need to provide consent for all the different ways their data is being collected, stored, and applied, MacGregor suggested.

But perhaps this is also a generational issue. As Doug Sitzes, AECOM’s western regional workplace leader for strategy, noted nonchalantly, “My data is already out there and I’m sure I’ve already been hacked.” If older generations are impassioned about data collection, younger generations aren’t. And if they understand how sensor technology is being used in their workplace, the point may very well become moot.

Data collection is essential to a building’s performance, after all. As MacGregor explained, “If you make an environment more conducive to research, you can improve outcomes. This can be the difference in curing cancer sooner.”

The Think Tank discussions were held on December 5 and 6, 2018, in Los Angeles. The conversations were presented in partnership with DXV/GROHEDWR ContractLutronSunbrella ContractVisa Lighting, and Wilsonart.

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Categories: Technology, Workplace Interiors