Berkeley City Council to vote on installation of smart kiosks

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Pending a vote at its Oct. 15 regular meeting, the Berkeley City Council — tempered by concerns over public data privacy —  is moving ahead with implementing a preliminary batch of 15 smart kiosks on city sidewalks.

The IKEs, or interactive kiosk experiences, are part of a nationwide wave of tech-oriented cities implementing booths known as “wayfinding” booths, according to a Berkeley City Council document. Part local bulletin and part billboard, the kiosks are financially self-sustaining through advertisement revenue and operated by IKE Smart City.

Concerns surfaced over the kiosks at the recent Sept. 24 city council meeting and District 2 Councilmember Cheryl Davila’s decision to postpone a vote to the Oct. 15 meeting was met by applause from members of the public at the meeting.

The initial 15 kiosks are proposed primarily for the Downtown Berkeley and Telegraph Avenue districts, with two slated for the Lorin district in South Berkeley along Adeline Street. With advocacy from city business improvement districts, the locations were chosen by two community meetings per district. Spearheaded by the city’s Office of Economic Development and Visit Berkeley, the kiosks will emit publicly available Wi-Fi, display event information and host a portal for city services.

Barbara Hillman, CEO of Visit Berkeley, said the small business interest group has been trying to implement kiosks in the city for over 20 years, but has been inhibited by high purchasing and maintenance costs. The IKE kiosks present the city with a unique opportunity: the city will bear minimal costs and share a portion of the advertisement revenue generated from the kiosks. A city staff report anticipated the proposed 31 total kiosks to bring about $830,000 per year.

Hillman also pointed to the privacy measures that council members negotiated before agreeing to the franchise agreement. Without compromising individual privacy, the kiosks create more pedestrian-friendly business corridors, according to Hillman.

“They will put the privacy policy for Berkeley in each of the kiosks. There’s no cameras, there’s no data collection. That isn’t anything what this kiosk is about,” Hillman said. “This way you can activate the kiosk and look for a restaurant, look for a calendar of events … or when is the next BART train. It’s kind of an all-inclusive.”

The kiosks would still be able to collect pedestrian activity through radio frequency identification technology, Jordan Klein, the city economic development manager, said in an email. He added that such anonymized information “would be of value to our transportation and economic development policy-making efforts.”

Representatives from Orange Barrel Media, a company which owns IKE Smart City, did not respond to inquiries regarding data sharing policies between third parties as of press time.

District 5 Councilmember Sophie Hahn — who has previously expressed concerns over whether the city should allow an encroachment on the public right of way —  added that she will not be voting for the kiosks.

The initial 15 kiosks will serve as a pilot, with 16 planned to be installed at a later date.

Brandon Yung is the lead city government reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @brandonyung1.