• Digital rights and space users’ digital surrounding worlds

Through data collection and analytics applied in smart space, digital rights refer to the optimisation, or to put it more bluntly the control, of space users’ experiences in smart real estate. The scope of this optimisation depends on smart space’s objectives in a particular building, e.g. increasing sales in a smart shopping mall, productivity and well-being in a smart office building. Hence, digital rights are multiform and closely linked to the concept of Umwelt in smart space (see Appendix 2.1).

Digital Usage Rights enable rights owners to tap into space users’ digital surrounding worlds and, in many ways, to shape them. In that respect, Digital Usage Rights carry with them the right to monetise space users’ Umwelt. Umwelt captures digital rights’ temporal dimension and ultimately a large chunk of their value for rights holders. Markedly, Digital Usage Rights without the corresponding data component would be significantly less valuable as they would lack the long memory built over time while Umwelt is being shaped at each point of pre-designed interactions in smart space.

• Digital rights and the need for digital governance in the real estate sector

The concept of digital rights is not devoid of potential controversies. Cynics might argue that smart buildings’ technological apparatus is essentially about controlling space users’ attention in smart environments in order to profit from digital rights. If one plays the devil’s advocate, Weiser’s pervasive computing which emphasises peripheral attention might just be a calm way to let things happening in the background eschew humans’ attention. Who can reassure space users that nothing nefarious is actually going on? Digital rights would be the legal and economic expression of this opaque process which implies constant monitoring in smart real estate and the accumulation of as much data as technically feasible.

In response to this view, McCullough (2013) who pleads in favour of tangible information commons, what he calls ‘ambient commons’, proposes a vision of the world where “citizens have a right to engage one another and the built world they inhabit in ways that are unmediated, uninstructed, unscripted, and undocumented”. Such technology-free idyllic information environment would wipe out digital rights in smart buildings, by irremediably destroying their value. Does it make sense? Is the absence of technology in the built environment the right answer to the challenges posed by pervasive computing and smart technologies?

Beyond the debate about the humanist implications of “cognitive assemblages” in the built environment (Hayles, 2017), it makes no doubt that without safeguards in place, digital rights may contribute to an Orwellian world of algorithmic control and cognitive manipulation in smart real estate insofar as they give rights holders the economic incentive to behave in such a way. Conversely, with proper rules and regulations upholding an ethics of smart space whose principles would have to be defined, probably under the stewardship of some official authorities (e.g. as part of broader digital governance principles for the real estate sector),

Digitalisation of commercial real estate 101 digital rights may foster the emergence of ambient commons whereby space users’ attention in smart environments is valued and protected, notwithstanding the underlying motives which might eventually turn out to be mercantile.

In sum, digital rights have to be accompanied by a clear set of rules pertaining to digital governance in the built environment. Digital rights’ ability to generate value for the real estate sector hinges on this insofar as transparency and trust in smart space will condition space users’ willingness to engage with smart buildings. Hence, digital rights are not only a way for real estate players to create and appropriate value in smart buildings, they also represent new sources of societal responsibilities and complex ethical issues which will realistically take a lot of efforts for all stakeholders to get a full grasp of (Lecomte, 2015).

BOX 2.1: What does it mean to own a smart building in a smart city?

  • • In smart cities, a new real estate space known as smart space sits at the intersect of physical space and digital space.
  • • Asa result, there are four layers to smart space: two layers in physical space (land-smart grid, the building’s physical structure) and two layers in digital space (ICT infrastructure, digital skin-cloud).
  • • Smart buildings can be valued by applying specific hedonic pricing models.
  • • Two hedonic pricing models are proposed in this book: (i) an hedonic model based on smart space’s four layers. The model is built around a smart building score called the Smart Index Matrix; and (ii) an activitybased hedonic model which considers that a smart building is equivalent to the sum of human-building interactions taking place within the building. Each interaction per activity carried out in the building is individually valued and added up to determine a smart building’s price.
  • • In addition to property rights for physical space, smart buildings come with rights attached to smart space.
  • • These new property rights known as digital rights cover all activities within a building pertaining to data collection and analytics, embedded technologies (e.g. sensors, actuators), and interactions between a building and its occupants in smart space.
  • • Digital rights can be broken down into two distinct subsets of rights: (i) Digital Access Rights (rights to create and control smart space) which belong to property owners; and (ii) Digital Usage Rights (rights to use smart space) whose ownership is divided between property owners (common areas and non-tenanted spaces) and tenants (tenanted spaces).
  • • Ownership of data collected in the building is defined according to Digital Usage Rights, allowing for a divided data ownership between property owners and tenants.

• Owning a smart building in a smart city means having ownership of: land (including access to and use of smart grid

 
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