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Sidney City Council Tables Economic Development Director's Proposed Artifical Intelligence Tracking Program

Violation of Privacy Concerns Cited; Community Input Strongly Encouraged on Purchase

SIDNEY--On Tuesday, May 14, City of Sidney Economic Development Director Brandy Stone addressed the Sidney City Council regarding the purchase and implementation of Placer.AI, an Artificial Intelligence product which Stone states uses location analytics software,powered by mobile data. Placer.AI monitors tens of thousands of mobile devices to provide data on any physical location such as retailers, events, or casual outings. As proposed, the benefit will be that this AI program will ensure media budget dollars are maximized by optimizing advertisement site selection based on the "demographic and psychographic profiles" of passersby.

The company, Placer.Ai, is headquartered in the Middle East. They implement software to access and then identify apps on a visitor's phone that allow tracking and data sharing. The program then provides information as to where people live, how they spend their money, and what places they visit. Stone said that although there could be privacy concerns, the company had assured her that there would be safeguards in place to protect visitors' and businesses' privacy.

As Stone finished her presentation, Sidney Sun-Telegraph Editor & Publisher Barbara Perez, who was seated in the area designated for members of the public, raised her hand and asked to be recognized. Paul Strommen, Vice-Mayor of Sidney, recognized her, and Perez addressed the council and members of the public in attendance.

She said, "Although this type of Artificial Intelligence technology can provide benefits when it comes to marketing information to the Economic Development Director's office that can be disseminated to local businesses, there are also a very concerning issues regarding privacy and data protection that should not be glossed over." Perez then went on to explain a quick Google search of the company brought up a long list of questions concerning privacy and data breaches, and also noted that in addition to the $9,500 per year, the City of Sidney may potentially incur additional software costs to protect the city from hackers; possibly tens of thousands of dollars.

Stone rebutted that she had looked into the privacy and security issues and was assured by representatives of Placer.Ai that their product is secure and would not result in privacy violations or data hacking. Perez responded "Of course the company would say they were safe but the questions of potential violations of individuals' privacies run too deep for a decision to be made so quickly." Perez felt the Council should know more about this product and the potential dangers it could pose to individuals and businesses and that they should investigate further before approving the implementation of the program.

The council members agreed to table the issue until the next city council meeting and asked Stone to set up a conference video call with a representative of Placer.Ai to address the privacy and security concerns.

After the meeting Perez stated, "My biggest concern with having a representative of Placer.Ai address the privacy and security concerns is that it feels very similar to the wolf explaining to the farmer why he should be allowed to guard the chickens."

The Sun-Telegraph will be publishing a more in-depth piece piece about the service and its potential benefits and dangers in next week's edition.

The next City Council meeting will be May 28th at 5:30 pm, and the public is very strongly encouraged to attend the meeting to both learn more about the possible implementation of the location analytic software and to voice any concerns they may have.


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