Yinchuan, China (CNN)Like most people, I’d never heard of Yinchuan before going there.
But the Chinese officials showing me around are eager to present the capital of Ningxia province, in the north of China, as a technical marvel.
And I should pay attention: Yinchuan is intended to serve as the blueprint “smart city” for scores of urban metropolises across China.
It also raises some serious questions about data privacy.
When your face pays
In Yinchuan, your face is your credit card.
On the local buses, facial recognition software has replaced the fare box. Much like a fingerprint can unlock a smartphone, passengers’ faces are linked to their bank accounts, meaning boarding isn’t slowed by people fishing for exact change.
“Smart cities provide a solution to many inevitable problems of urbanization,” says Baichun. “It was designed for the people, it will work for the people and it will bring benefit to the people.”
But Calzada, for one, is uneasy how so much personal data could be used by the Chinese government.
“Which data is being used? What will it be used for? I don’t know, I’m clueless, and nobody seems interested in going deep into those questions,” he says.
“Some cities seem interested in thinking about the transparency of that data, some are not. Yinchuan is quite new, but no one seems interested in knowing more about how that data will be governed.”