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A South African city is placing QR codes on the homes of poor black residents

Xolani Mahlaba, a 39-year-old unemployed and formerly incarcerated cook living in the informal settlement of Mfuleni, said his hut will have a QR code in future phases. Mahlaba is intrigued by the current exercise. “We don’t fully understand the confusing gears of technology,” he said, “the Internet and codes and the effect on our housing structures, to be honest. We’d be glad if dazzling tech stuff could bring us food markets, running water, mobile clinics, but we told them, ‘Don’t pass our data on to the police.’”

“It is very, very difficult to know what information is being collected, how and for what purposes, from the very vague announcement of this project by the city,” Ziyanda Stuurman, a Cape Town-based digital privacy expert, told BuzzFeed. and former parliamentary investigator. News. “The language of the press release is quite ambiguous in detailing how many communities have been consulted. Ask survey questions with data that could identify them or others in their households, or data that could be used to track or monitor them, [would] be deeply troublesome.”

Written consent was obtained from the owner of each home before QR encoding it, no personal information will be shared with unauthorized users, and the data is encrypted, Booi told BuzzFeed News.

“We are very excited,” Booi said, promising that the process strictly adheres to the new rules of South Africa’s Personal Information Protection Act. “We are adapting [to] use of new technologies, even in the most vulnerable communities”.

To the best of the knowledge and belief of the council, this is the first technology project of this kind for a metropolitan city in South Africa, Booi told a local radio station.

In 2015, Cape Town became the first city in South Africa to launch an open data portal and make collected data sets available to residents and stakeholders. In 2018, it became the first city to South Africa to draw digital maps of trafficking routes and the use of both informal minibuses and regulated public buses. The goal was to collect big data on the evolving patterns of urban traffic flow in Cape Town.

“Cape Town loves data, it likes to map, number, enumerate,” said Fiona Elder, a professor of urban governance at the University of the Western Cape who has conducted field studies in informal settlements. “[It’s] It’s not bad to go there and see how the different homes work.”

Elder told BuzzFeed News that the majority of people in deprived slums in South Africa, including some of his master’s students, live on streets that don’t have title deeds or proper property addresses. If they want to open a bank account or get a loan, they have to prove an address. What most people do is visit a local authority, usually the head of the ruling party branch, and get a sealed letter. “A speculation is this [QR-coding] cut out the middleman,” Elder said. “The city can say, ‘We’re officially linking his ID to the structure.'” This might be more convenient for people.

At the heart of the criticism is how millions of residents live in the informal settlements of South Africa and how digitization interacts with rights.


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