Thursday, 19 May 2016 16:05

Crowdsourced surveillance creates storage nightmare

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The rise of crowdsourced surveillance – where Joe or Jane Average contribute their mobile "footage" to feeds from CCTV and other sources – has had a profound effect on the way we see the world.

While they do a great job and can enormously help first responders, law enforcement and media, they also create massive data issues.

B.S. Teh, senior vice-president of global sales, Seagate Technology has penned an article on crowd-sourced surveillance and it appears below. Teh may be based in Singapore but has his MBA from the University of Adelaide. He is best known for saying, "We are moving from being a device company selling just hard drives to a complete storage company offering different types of storage capabilities and consulting services.”

There’s been much discussion about smart cities worldwide including banter about which city can rightfully claim to have achieved smart status; and whether they have become more efficient, affordable, sustainable or liveable in the process. What’s not been discussed openly, though, is the role that crowdsourced surveillance plays in achieving smart city status.

The smarts of a city can be measured on the level of intelligence and integration of the infrastructure connecting all major public and private services through the use of innovative technology to make life better for residents. It’s this technology encompassing data-generating devices and applications that provides a pulse of the city for those who manage it so that they can make informed decisions. Surveillance cameras, sensors, location-based apps and services all collect information from, and about, the metropolis. But while residents are getting comfortable with that idea and enjoy many benefits as a result, there's a wild card at play in helping smart cities stay smart: crowdsourcing of surveillance.

Thanks to the increasing prevalence of mobile phones, city residents themselves are increasingly capturing and then sharing their own video surveillance efforts. Consider recent major international events where personal photos and videos played a major role in identifying the suspects, or provided invaluable insights for first responders. One of the immediate practical benefits of this trend is the ability to improve reaction time of law enforcement agencies, especially with the use of social media monitoring.

However, while crowd-sourcing unlocks an exceptional opportunity for partnership and support between residents and authorities, it also opens the door to a raft of potential problems. For example, research recently conducted by Seagate found that while the demands for surveillance footage from authorities have increased 79%, the issues around managing video surveillance data have increased 60%.

Indeed, the South Australian police recently spoke up about their struggle in coping with what they described as a mind-blowing amount of data coming out of investigations. They commented that one of the issues was that the variety of data they receive from different sources made it challenging to put the data to good use, noting it can even become “worthless”.

When you consider that recent data from research company IHS Inc reported that an astonishing 566 petabytes of data is being produced every day by installed video surveillance cameras, it's no surprise that the addition of crowdsourced data is adding pressure. The often unsophisticated source files coming from crowdsourced materials creates pain points around the receiving organisation’s ability to safely and smartly manage and store the vast quantity of this unstructured data – and creates significant challenges around data analysis and manipulation challenges.

Ultimately, a smart city is judged on how it uses its data and technology to improve overall liveability. Looking to the immediate future, cities striving to build their “smart” credentials will need to quickly evolve existing storage infrastructures with more efficient architectures which will help them weave together their data from public and crowdsourced surveillance efforts and better manage recorded footage through its lifetime, while also allowing for rapid access to uncompromised data for real-time video analytics purposes.

VizSafe,  a new service being tested at several Rhode Island (USA) schools that integrates surveillance cameras and crowdsourced images from mobile phones is a great example of just how this can be achieved. Using the VizSafe app, teachers and staff can upload video clips and photos and view all the geolocated information that has been posted. School officials and first responders can view all camera streams, uploaded images, and video via their web interface. It’s not designed as a standalone system — it’s an integral part of the smart city infrastructure — and it's a great step forward.

The smart city concept isn’t going to be a utopian answer to daily issues – but once we find the balance in managing public and private involvement in contributing data to help make our cities smart, we’ll all be able to move from smart cities as a "‘buzz phrase" to enjoying them as a reality.


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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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