Google-led smart city project draws civic backlash in Toronto
Eighteen months ago, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and leaders of Google-parent Alphabet subsidiary Sidewalk Labs announced the planned $1 billion redevelopment of Toronto’s Quayside area. The idea was kit the area with smart city solutions covering everything from energy use to transportation, all based on collecting and analyzing data.
And in the data lies the rub. In fact, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association is suing to shut the project down based on data privacy concerns and #BlockSidewalk sprung up in February.
To the privacy point, in October last year Ontario’s former privacy commissioner resigned a consulting post at Sidewalk Labs after the company said it couldn’t guarantee their parties accessing so-called “urban data” would be able to keep it private.
These lingering issues around data privacy remain a point of contention. According to published reports, #BlockSidewalk leader Bianca Wylie said, “It’s our job to remind everybody that ‘no’ is an option and that consent is important. The way this process has been set up was not a question of whether we should do stuff life this, but how.”
The public backlash in Toronto has drawn comparisons to the grassroots groundswell in New York City that led to Amazon scrapping its multi-billion plans to set up a second headquarters in the city.
Sidewalk Labs’ Head of Policy and Communications Micah Lasher said the company is still learning how to best engage community stakeholders regarding plans for Quayside. “If you share them too early, they seem half-baked and you might move away from the later. If you share too late, you are subject to criticism for not being transparent.”