Is Saudi Arabia’s Hyper-Futuristic NEOM a Surveillance Metropolis? The Line to Pay Residents for Their Knowledge

Closing Updated: August 27, 2022, 10: 57 IST

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

A rendering of The Line, a smart city in NEOM, a high-tech business zone on the Red Sea in northwest Saudi Arabia (Image: Reuters/NEOM Tech & Digital Holding Co)

A rendering of The Line, a natty metropolis in NEOM, a excessive-tech enterprise zone on the Purple Sea in northwest Saudi Arabia (Image: Reuters/NEOM Tech & Digital Holding Co)

Saudi Arabia’s uncomfortable human rights portray has created issues for these to live in NEOM as The Line will harvest recordsdata from residents’ smartphones, their properties, facial recognition cameras, and a bunch of different sensors

In the desolate tract sands of Saudi Arabia’s deep northwest, thousands of workers are building a futuristic metropolis that the kingdom says would possibly maybe be esteem no other.

Out of the ragged sands will emerge a excessive-tech metropolis centre called The Line: zero-carbon with flying drones for taxis, holographs for lecturers and even an man made moon.

The natty metropolis is housed inside NEOM, a $500-billion enterprise zone geared toward diversifying the financial system of the enviornment’s high oil exporter, and the brainchild of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. NEOM is financed, in allotment, by the nation’s sovereign wealth fund, and is on memoir of of be carried out by 2025.

While NEOM will feature manufacturing and tourism zones, The Line will stack properties and locations of work vertically, and mine the ideas of its 9 million of us, giving residents more assert over their recordsdata and paying them for it – a world first, talked about an official.

“Without trust, there’ll not be any such thing as a recordsdata. Without recordsdata, there’ll not be any such thing as a mark,” talked about Joseph Bradley, chief govt of NEOM Tech & Digital Co., which is ready to oversee the consent management platform.

“This technology permits customers to own a study and without philosophize understand the device in the help of the utilization of their deepest recordsdata, whereas offering monetary rewards for authorising the utilization of their recordsdata,” he talked about, without giving further dinky print.

The Line is being designed with man made intelligence at its core, with recordsdata aged to retain a watch on vitality, water, kill, transport, healthcare and security, esteem many natty cities.

Knowledge will moreover be easy from residents’ smartphones, their properties, facial recognition cameras, and a bunch of different sensors, a recordsdata sweep that Bradley talked about would feed knowledge help to the metropolis and help it predict user wants.

Nonetheless the country’s uncomfortable human rights portray would now not bode successfully for responsible recordsdata utilization or the safeguarding of particular individual privateness, digital rights consultants talked about.

“The surveillance issues are justified,” talked about Vincent Mosco, a researcher of the social impacts of technology.

“It’s, in attain, a surveillance metropolis.”

The Saudi Ministry of Communications and Knowledge Abilities didn’t respond to a request for comment.


An elevated digitisation of all facets of each day life has spawned worries about who owns deepest recordsdata, how it is aged, and what it is price.

Some recordsdata rights consultants, economists and lawmakers own proposed recordsdata dividends, or payments for recordsdata, which is on the full easy with out a individual’s recordsdata or told consent.

Nonetheless consultants are divided over how much to pay, and if such incentives will manufacture a two-tier system where some peoples’ recordsdata is deemed more treasured than that of others, further entrenching inequalities created by the digital divide.

“Tricking customers into utilizing a deepest consent platform would now not substitute a recordsdata security regulation that protects of us’s deepest knowledge,” talked about Marwa Fatafta, regional coverage manager at Rep entry to Now, a digital rights organisation.

“It sounds esteem a privateness disaster in a position to happen. Adding money as an incentive is a shocking belief; it distorts the magnificent of of us to freely consent, and normalises the apply of advertising and marketing deepest recordsdata for profit,” she talked about.

Saudi Arabia has launched a deepest recordsdata security law, and Bradley talked about NEOM officers are addressing privateness issues.

What NEOM proposes to attain is only appropriate an “outrageous continuation of what cities attain currently anyway,” talked about Jonathan Reichental, an adjunct professor on the University of San Francisco, who researches natty cities and recordsdata governance.

“We are a recordsdata-driven world; we’re all consenting to recordsdata spend on a typical basis, and that recordsdata is leveraged by cities and organisations,” he talked about.

NEOM’s residents, by getting paid for their recordsdata, will own an profit over of us that don’t, he talked about.

“By now not being allotment of that, you neglect any monetary beneficial properties,” he talked about.

Fahd Mohamed, a 28-300 and sixty five days-ragged engineer who lives in Jeddah, agreed, announcing that if he lived in The Line, he would consent.

“My recordsdata is already aged by social media platforms, trudge-sharing apps, and heaps others,” he talked about.

“This methodology is better on memoir of I receives a charge.”


With the rising digitisation of public and deepest-sector products and companies worldwide, near the promised advantages of better governance and more comfort – and rising issues about surveillance and privateness.

In 2020, Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs shelved a thought for a recordsdata-driven neighbourhood in Toronto, whereas a resident in the Indian metropolis of Hyderabad sued the divulge this 300 and sixty five days over facial recognition systems that he talked about were an invasion of privateness.

Users on NEOM’s consent management platform can judge what deepest date to fragment, who has salvage admission to to the ideas, show screen how it is aged, and would possibly maybe maybe decide out any time, talked about Bradley.

The system will moreover alert customers if recordsdata is aged without consent, or if there’s suspicious job, or a recordsdata breach.

By sharing their place, health and dash recordsdata, shall we embrace, if a user is immobile for too prolonged, a drone would possibly maybe well even be deployed to own a study on them, Bradley talked about.

Nonetheless, Faisal Al-Ali, a 33-300 and sixty five days-ragged Saudi advertising and marketing specialist in Dubai, changed into as soon as now not happy.

“How can I trust that the ideas will greatest be shared for thus prolonged as I desire, and greatest with the third events or products and companies that I own chosen?” he talked about.

“How can I trust that it would possibly maybe maybe now not be aged for other reasons? It’s far rarely 100% sincere.”


Surveillance would possibly maybe maybe simply now not be the becoming enviornment for The Line. In some natty cities, residents own complained about feeling remoted and bereft of human contact.

South Korea’s $40-billion natty metropolis Songdo, shall we embrace, stays carefully populated no topic hey-tech ingredients that enable residents to management lights at dwelling from their telephones, and that scamper away rubbish in tubes to underground sorting products and companies.

This all comes on the worth of human connections, talked about Samia Khedr, professor of sociology at Ain Shams University in Cairo.

“Human connections are a key social infrastructure,” she talked about. “Complex recordsdata infrastructure would now not on the full cater to essential social and cultural wants which are paramount to metropolis life.”

On the least one Saudi citizen gave the influence to agree, urging funding in accurate life and in residing cities.

“Is it now not better to use the billions spent on NEOM on upgrading the accurate cities in the closing ingredients of the kingdom?” Fahd Alghofaili wrote on Twitter.

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