Public safety goes personal

Key findings

Cities are not safe enough

  • The majority of citizens do not perceive their city to be dangerous. However, only one in three think their city is actually safe
  • Dubai is the exception and shows the opposite trend, with two in three saying their city is safe

The smartphone safety paradox

  • Around 40 percent feel safer when out and about with a smartphone
  • One in four think that having a smartphone makes citizens less risk-averse than they would be otherwise

Citizens actively engage in personal safety

  • Three in four already use emergency apps or functions on their smartphones, and many express a high interest in using more security apps
  • Citizens do not sit around waiting for the city authorities. Personal safety measures include video monitoring of the house and neighborhood watch schemes

Surveillance technology is welcome but not at the cost of privacy

  • Half of the smartphone users surveyed would like to see more police and surveillance technology in public places
  • Smartphone users worry about who is watching them. Only 15 percent have no privacy concerns about surveillance


World map

The views expressed in the survey are representative of 17 million smartphone users across the 5 cities.

This study is based on data collected from 3,500 smartphone users in Dubai, Istanbul, London, New York and Stockholm who participated in an online survey during May 2016.

The voice of the consumer

Ericsson ConsumerLab has more than 20 years’ experience of studying people’s behaviors and values, including the way they act and think about ICT products and services. Ericsson ConsumerLab provides unique insights on market and consumer trends.

Ericsson ConsumerLab gains its knowledge through a global consumer research program based on interviews with 100,000 individuals each year, in more than 40 countries – statistically representing the views of 1.1 billion people.

Both quantitative and qualitative methods are used, and hundreds of hours are spent with consumers from different cultures. To be close to the market and consumers, Ericsson ConsumerLab has representatives throughout Ericsson’s global presence, developing an international understanding of the ICT market and business models.

This is Ericsson ConsumerLab

The engaged citizen

Public safety is a hot topic of debate both among citizens and in the media, with the conversation revolving around expectations of what authorities should do to keep people safe.

While it is clear that citizens have high expectations on city authorities and public safety agencies like the fire and rescue service, ambulance, emergency medical services and police, the engagement reaches beyond just raised voices. Citizens are increasingly using the internet for their own personal safety, and are now expecting authorities to be doing the same.

By accessing and sharing information on the internet and by using digital technology and apps on a broader scale, citizens are closing the gap between personal and public safety.

This in turn, increases the pressure on city authorities to engage in public safety through these same technologies.

The internet enables citizens to make better and more informed decisions in general, and our research indicates this is equally true for public safety. By using the internet to become informed about personal safety, citizens may in fact be collectively leading the way towards safer cities.

We asked smartphone users in Dubai, Istanbul, London, New York and Stockholm about their perspectives on safety in public; how they address their personal safety, their expectations of city authorities and what role they see technology playing when it comes to leading a safe city life.

Perception versus reality

Most smartphone users appear to perceive their cities as, if not safe, at least not dangerous. While typically only 1 in 3 thinks their city is actually safe, less than 10 percent think it is unsafe. Dubai is the exception, where 70 percent think the city is safe.

Furthermore, in three of the five cities researched, citizens perceived city life to have become safer over the past two years. However, in Istanbul and Stockholm the perception of city safety shows a negative trend. At the time of the study, Istanbul had experienced several major terrorist attacks which most likely affected the results. In Stockholm, a public debate around worsening safety may have negatively affected the general perception, despite a fall or stagnation in violent crime over the last five years (Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention, Swedish Crime Survey, 2015).

Figure 1: Mixed feelings about safety in the city
Figure 2: Positive and negative trends of safety

Nevertheless, in all five cities smartphone users could see room for improvement when it comes to safety. Based on the findings in this report, it is clear that the cities are not safe enough.

Skyscrapers view at night

Threats that impact citizens’ sense of security

One interesting finding of the research is that citizens’ perception of the source of danger does not always match up to the things they are actually most in danger from.

This is evident, for example, in the comparison between crime and traffic accidents. Accidents are the most common incident for people to have experienced or personally witnessed, far more common than experiencing crimes, and yet fear of crimes is higher than fear of accidents.

Furthermore, terrorist attacks show up alongside crime as amongst the top three perceived threats in all cities. This may be due to the perception of crime and terrorism as being more out of the individual’s control and that both acts involve another person knowingly wanting to hurt the victim. Both these factors could make these incidents seem harder to prepare for or prevent, and therefore a scarier prospect.

Nevertheless, perception of the severity of a particular threat is just as important as consumers’ actual experiences. For instance, the fear of terrorism still has a concrete effect on behavior, with some people avoiding public places due to worries about terrorist attacks. The perceived threats thus need to be addressed as much as actual threats when improving city safety, in order to ensure the population feels safe.

Activating personal safety

Today, many citizens are taking the matter of personal safety into their own hands by using internet-enabled services and tools and engaging with their social networks. By using the internet to make better informed decisions about their personal safety, citizens are more able to estimate risk and manage their own situation and circumstances. By engaging with their social networks, they can contribute to the overall safety of their community.

Keeping watch

Keeping watch

Many smartphone users help keep an eye on the local area through organizing neighborhood watches, with 1 in 10 partaking in this type of scheme. Around 45 percent state that they are interested in doing so.

In the era of the sharing economy it is easy to see how an interest in surveilling a shared neighborhood area could be developed through social media, and there are already many communities built around the collaborative thought of “If you watch my doorstep, I’ll watch yours”. An example is the Nextdoor service in the US.

Surveillance camera

Increased awareness

Having a camera to watch the front door is another way to increase the feeling of safety. Our research shows this is most common in New York, where almost one in five say they use video monitoring to watch their house, street or garden.

This trend is set to increase further over the coming years as interest is high in all markets and web cameras and IP cameras are both affordable and easy to install. Around two in five say they are interested in video monitoring of their street, house or garden.

Aiding people in need

Aiding people in need

It was found that 1 in 10 partake in safety networks whereby they receive alerts to aid people in need. With almost one in two already interested in doing so, it might only need an initiative and platform to gather around in order for a network to become activated. One example is the Swedish citizens’ initiative Missing People, an organization where more than 40,000 people have registered as volunteers, aiding the police to look for missing people when needed.

The smartphone as a safety tool

The smartphone is emerging as a key personal safety tool, as it offers constant availability through calls or internet access, and through the use of security functions or apps. The use of these functions or apps is most evident amongst smartphone users in New York and Istanbul. Three out of four already use emergency apps or functions on their smartphones, and many express a high interest in using more security apps. The most common across all markets being the storing of emergency contacts and use of GPS tracking to share one’s position (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Use of smartphone security functions and apps

There is also a high level of interest in new concepts and services that could become available on the smartphone. These include public warnings or mass broadcast notifications allowing citizens to instantly receive emergency information, and assault or emergency alarm apps with an automatic emergency response (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Interest in various public safety apps and smartphone functions

Most smartphones also include quite sophisticated cameras, which add an extra dimension to how the owner can respond to security issues. For example, while the majority of people will call the emergency services for aid if they were to witness a severe car accident, many will also record photos or videos from the accident which they can share with emergency services to give them a better idea of the situation.

Previous research shows that smartphone users already expect to be able to communicate with emergency services through other means than voice, for instance, using video, chat or even social media (Ericsson ConsumerLab, 10 Hot Consumer Trends, 2016).

Considering the rapidly developing interest in new security apps and services, it is clear that the smartphone is yet to reach its full potential as a security tool.

The smartphone safety paradox

Even if people perceive that the smartphone has the potential to unlock usage of more security apps and services, it is clear that the smartphone’s role as a safety tool is already widespread.

Around 40 percent of citizens agree that they feel safer when out and about with a smartphone, as they have the option to make an emergency call or look up information on the internet at any time. Just imagine wandering through the wrong neighborhood with your phone ready, versus having no phone at all. A further 30 percent also agree that they are more confident, would try different things and visit new places when carrying a smartphone, compared to when they don’t have their smartphone with them. About as many also say that thanks to the smartphone they are less risk-averse. This is especially evident in Dubai, New York and Istanbul.

But here is a paradox. As shown in Figure 5 the smartphone can be a major asset in preventing emergencies or resolving dangerous situations through the ability to make emergency calls or access the internet. Being less risk-averse and more adventurous thanks to the feeling of security a smartphone brings, citizens may actually find themselves in more dangerous situations than they would otherwise.

Trust in and reliance on the smartphone for safety may also lead to an increased pressure on emergency services, specifically in cases of smartphone users needing assistance in emergencies that could have been avoided, or caused by citizens overestimating their abilities.

Figure 5: The smartphone safety paradox

The personal technology effect

The increasing use of new personal and internet-enabled services may lead to higher expectations on authorities to integrate with these services or even provide them directly. Examples include apps that receive safety information provided by the authorities and apps that provide a safe walking companion service that can alert emergency services if needed.

Expectations on the city

Even though citizens are increasingly taking responsibility for their own safety through personal technology, they still have high expectations on city authorities and public safety agencies to increase public safety.

Public lighting and numbers of visible police are the top factors dictating how safe citizens feel

The signs of safety

The level of public lighting and the number of visible police are the two top factors dictating how safe citizens feel (Figure 6). These are also perceived to be highly present in the city. Elderly citizens and families in particular rate police presence as the most important factor in improving their perception of safety.

This clearly shows that city authorities need to consider both the design and lighting of public areas, for example, as well as the presence of security and emergency personnel, in order to promote a feeling of safety.

Figure 6: Public security elements – perceived presence and impact on feeling of safety

Comfort in information

In addition to improving the physical environment, citizens also have high expectations of the amount of information they receive. In previous research, communication with the city authorities was identified as one of the major dissatisfaction areas that citizens experience in the city (Ericsson ConsumerLab, Smartphones Change Cities, 2013).

In case of major incidents such as a serious fire or car accident with multiple casualties, most citizens will seek updates and information through traditional media, whether online or on TV. In addition, many smartphone users will try to find out more through their social media networks.

When it comes to what type of information citizens want to receive, terrorism ranks as a high-concern subject, even compared to the interest in information on crime, although crime is perceived as the greatest threat in the majority of the cities. One explanation for the perceived need for citizens to be up to date on terrorism is that the unfolding risk of global terrorist attacks is rather new and difficult to predict compared to crime, and many people are affected in each attack.

In general, the interest in getting information from the authorities on a regular basis is evident. Information may concern security measures being implemented to the whereabouts of emergency personnel, indicating that there is an expectation for the city to connect and share more information with its citizens online and on social networks.

The usage of emergency technology

Citizens have high expectations of public safety agencies when it comes to the implementation of different types of technology to complement the physical presence of emergency personnel.

For example, half the respondents stated that in the event of a severe car accident, they would use emergency phones and defibrillators if they were available. As a comparison, only 5 percent said they would not use such devices if they were available.

A real-world demonstration of this is the SMS Livraddare (SMS-lifesavers) pilot project in Stockholm. SMS Lifesavers is an interesting project in which SMS are sent to cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) trained civilians in the vicinity to assist in starting CPR before the ambulance arrives.

Concerning CCTV

There are many cases where citizens approve of closed-circuit television (CCTV), for instance if the footage is used for crime, accident prevention and investigation (Figure 7). However it’s important to note that its presence does not create the feeling of safety for everyone.

Take London – a city well known for the implementation of video monitoring. While many citizens are aware of the presence of CCTV, not all of them stated that CCTV increases their feeling of safety. This illustrates that there is not a one-to-one relationship between the presence of safety technology and the actual feeling of safety.

Figure 7: Citizen approval levels for different uses of closed-circuit television (CCTV)

Privacy concerns

When it comes to surveillance, there is generally an uncertainty and, in many cases, a concern over who is watching and why (Figure 8). Most respondents, however, approve of video monitoring if the footage is used for crime,accident prevention and investigation (Figure 7).

Citizens generally believe the footage belongs to either the city,the government or the police, but one in three stated they are concerned over who is watching.

Furthermore, many feel that video monitoring is an intrusion on their privacy. In fact, only 15 percent are not at all concerned about surveillance data potentially being used to undermine their privacy. Hence there is a clear need for increased transparency when it comes to surveillance technology. As safety threats are real, public safety and security agencies need to manage this threat whilst ensuring privacy is not being invaded.

Figure 8: Key concerns over the usage of closed-circuit television (CCTV)
Only 15 percent of citizens are not concerned that surveillance would undermine their privacy

Innovating public safety

As people see there is room for improving the city’s public safety, there is an expectation that new technologies will contribute to this improvement.

Almost half of the respondents would be interested in smart video monitoring that could recognize suspicious behavior, or identify wanted criminals or missing people through facial recognition (Figure 9). About the same amount of people also feel positively about the implementation of crime prediction systems and drones that can maintain surveillance over an area or aid in emergencies. The interest is especially noticeable in Istanbul and Dubai, whereas citizens in London and Stockholm are more hesitant.

One reason for citizens to be open to new technology is because they see the personal benefit of a whole city becoming more secure. At the same time, while technology like surveillance drones, facial recognition or crime prediction technology may increase a feeling of safety for some, it may also feel very intrusive to others.

Figure 9: Interest in new safety technology
Citizens see the personal benefit of a whole city becoming more secure with the help of new technology

The new risks of online tools

The border between personal and public safety is blurring as citizens and public safety providers adopt connected online tools.

For example, someone posting a status update about an accident on a commuter train to their social network can help others take alternate routes to avoid the accident. A public safety authority might equally use the same channel to share information.

This development also increases the risk of invasion of privacy. For example, when eyewitness photos of accidents are posted on social networks they can unintentionally publish the identity of someone who would prefer to stay anonymous. An additional potential risk of citizens filming emergencies is that it may prevent rescue personnel from doing their job in some cases.

Argentina - Landscape of river

The joint road to public safety

The joint road to public safety

People are already using the internet and connected devices to increase their personal safety, and the interest is growing. It is also clear that citizens contribute to the overall safety of a city, and that this is a trend that will continue to develop. Thereby, it is evident that cities have a lot to gain by listening to and learning from their citizens. In this study we have identified three areas for city authorities and public safety agencies to build upon the already established behaviors and expectations of the citizens.


Access to information is key in influencing the decisions citizens make in their everyday lives. Whether it comes down to accident prevention, terrorism alerts or the proximity of emergency services, if citizens know where to access and obtain information, they are likely to make use of it. As many citizens seek out information online or through social media channels, utilizing apps and social media for communication could increase the flow of information between city authorities and citizens. One example is the America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response (AMBER) alert service in the US, whereby mobile subscribers within a specific area are alerted in the event of a child abduction.


As citizens are increasingly using personal technology to improve their safety, changing behaviors will put different expectations on the city authorities.

Learning how citizens want to communicate or share information could open a path for greater citizen participation, e.g. citizens sharing video footage from accidents in order to provide authorities with information before they deploy the emergency response team.


Intrusive new technology may also drive even more concern over privacy. With new security systems that are able to identify citizens through facial recognition or by deploying predictive methods using collected data to combat crime, the amount of sensitive information gathered is also likely to increase.

As there are already concerns over who is watching and why, there is a need for authorities to become more transparent with their usage as well as how they are following guidelines and regulations. As seen in previous research, smartphone users are aware that most internet-enabled technology can be hacked, thus security measures to protect data will be of high importance to ensure the public’s trust in public safety technology (Ericsson ConsumerLab, 10 Hot Consumer Trends, 2016).