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Privacy advocates cry foul after WEF publishes plans for personal carbon tracking



Some people want to know what their carbon footprint is, and we have the technology to track it, but the initiative’s seen as another major privacy invasion by some.


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In what some are already calling yet another privacy invasion that will give governments and companies yet more unprecedented access to consumers behaviours and habits this week the World Economic Forum released an article justifying the need to enlist surveillance-like technology “for patrolling carbon emissions at a personal level.” And while they have a point, because the more data you have about your own carbon emissions the more you can do to curtail them, so too do privacy advocates who, let’s face it’ already know that these massive data sets will be shared with impunity to be used for both commercial and societal gain, as well as to monitor and surveil people in certain circumstances and countries.


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Via the wanna-be benign initiative, which is called “My Carbon,” climate concerned individuals will be able to monitor their own carbon footprint through a “personal allowance program.” And while these types of ideas are not new, as tracking and surveillance technology becomes more effective and prevalent the idea has gained momentum.


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This past May, during the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, several news outlets reported how Chinese E-Commerce giant Alibaba, a partner of the WEF, was looking at developing its own individual carbon footprint tracker.

Then, in an article written by the director of the Indian government’s Smart Cities Mission, Kunal Kumar, the WEF shared yet another reason why consumers should adopt even monitoring technology – something that societally we’re already groaning under the weight of anyway.


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As the author explains, cities around the world account for a vast majority of carbon emissions. But, as Kumar explains, “While transport and buildings are the major drivers for emissions in cities, the share of individual emissions are significant at around 40%.”

Kumar then blames the failure of “My Carbon” in the past on “a lack of social acceptance, political resistance, and a lack of awareness and fair mechanism for tracking.”

But things have changed over the last several years, or so he thinks. In addition to technological advancements, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic “was the test of social responsibility,” according to the author.


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Unsurprisingly, the stringent restrictions that plagued much of the world, and continues to in some countries, alongside the virus are endorsed by the author, who writes glowingly of the “numerous examples globally of maintaining social distancing, wearing masks, mass vaccinations and acceptance of contact-tracing applications for public health.”

With rapid developments in the fields of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Blockchain and digitization, devices like smart home technology, smart meters and personalized apps can be used to advance the “My Carbon” agenda.

Finally, the author explains how “sustainable cities” will be “enabled through smart communities.” A three-pronged approach, through the modification of economic behaviour, cognitive awareness and social norms is Kumar’s suggestion.


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The approach also lists the ways in which these categories should be enabled through public-private partnerships, namely increased costs for carbon-intensive activities and goods, economic incentives to reduce demand and improve efficiency, raised visibility of personal carbon footprints, raised awareness of personal carbon limits to sustain the transition to a net-zero-carbon society, new definition of a fair share of personal emissions, and the setting of acceptable levels of personal emissions.

It should be noted, however, that the World Economic Forum labels virtually every article it publishes with a disclaimer pointing out that “The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.”

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