Bettendorf planning to hire Israeli firm to use artificial intelligence for monitoring citizen interactions on Internet platforms, including Facebook, Twitter

Bettendorf plans to hire an Israeli-based company that would use artificial intelligence software to monitor citizen interactions on Internet platforms including Facebook, Twitter and local news sites.

The $18,000 annual contract with ZenCity is on the council's consent agenda that is expected to be approved without discussion at tonight's city council meeting (12/4).

According to the council information, the firm would monitor "social media, news outlets and other sources, tracking trends on topics that are being circulated on various media platforms. . ."

The information would enable the city's communication staff to monitor information involving the city "to be able to understand the trend and begin to allow the city to engage in those conversations as appropriate."

The ZenCity contract says it uses artificial intelligence to provide a "map interface" to show "all interactions which have a location property, divided by category, by type or in a heat map format."

There is no privacy clause in the contract to protect or specify the data being collect of residents by ZenCity. Nor is there any restrictions in the contract on whether the information collected as part of the surveillance of residents' postings can be sold or otherwise used by third parties.

The contract has extensive provisions to protect ZenCity's algorithm-based software used to track postings by residents.

City officials said there has been no research done as to privacy issues which might be raised by the software surveillance of residents or what other public databases, such as property and voting records, that ZenCity could collect and analyze with its software.

The contract states up to 50 users within the city could access the information/reports generated by ZenCity, but the city does not specify which city officials would have access to the information.

An online search shows ZenCity is funded by i3 Equity Partners, whose partners include GE Ventures, Qualcomm Ventures, Microsoft's Venture Fund M12, HNA Innovation Finance Group (part of HNA Group headquartered in Hong Kong), Pitango Venture Capital (another Israeli company with offices in Palo Alto, CA and New York City), and TATA (a part of Tata Industries headquartered in India).

Go to top