Under a plan announced on Monday, Nov. 17, New York City’s antiquated payphones will finally be replaced by modern technology. The plan, called LinkNYC, will remove 6,400 payphones and install high-tech kiosks where you can charge your phone, access Wi-Fi, make domestic calls and video chat for free. Over the next 12 years, the kiosks are predicted to earn $500 million through advertising revenue, which will help ensure that taxpayers do not pay the $200 million cost of implementation. LinkNYC not only moves toward modernizing New York City, but also helps provide Internet access to underprivileged families who may not have access otherwise. Even though security concerns about the kiosks have arisen, the benefits of LinkNYC outweigh the risks.
The kiosks, called Links, will be placed across neighborhoods in all five boroughs and will provide Internet access to lower income areas. As technology continues to grow and become an even bigger part of daily life, it is important that everyone has a reliable Internet connection. In addition, the Links will be monitored twice weekly for graffiti in order to ensure that they remain clean and untarnished, unlike the majority of payphone booths and other public facilities.
Users of the new Links should take care, however. Using public Wi-Fi increases the chances of data interception and malware. While the average pedestrian’s Facebook update is probably not worth the effort of a malicious hacker, it would be wise to avoid sending sensitive information, such as credit card numbers and important business emails, through the Links. After all, the more security the city adds to its hotspots, the more difficult it will become for users to connect. The Links could also become targets for non-digital crime — by setting down their devices to charge, consumers make their smartphones tempting lures for thieves.
Given concerns about government surveillance and electronic data-gathering, privacy becomes a concern with any public technology. This project is relatively harmless from that perspective, however, perhaps showing that the city government has learned from previous experiences. Despite the project’s corporate sponsorship, data from the Links will not be available to companies. Law enforcement would be able to access it, but thus far there is little word on what the requirements for doing so would be.
Most New Yorkers are accustomed to outdated infrastructure and rundown public facilities, but this does not have to be the case. LinkNYC is an affordable way to bring the city into the modern age and provide greater Wi-Fi access. Even though some of the security concerns may be valid, they are still dwarfed by the benefits. New York City needs to adapt to an evolving world and leave its archaic payphones behind.
A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Nov. 19 print edition. E-mail the editorial board at [email protected]