Amid privacy fears, group calls for review of Toronto smart city

by Ephraim Vecina22 Apr 2019

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has petitioned for a judicial review of the Quayside smart city project by Sidewalk Labs in Toronto, amid anxiety that Canadians will be used as “Google’s lab rats.”

Among the chief attractions of the development is its widespread use of “Internet of things” sensors, a feature that has both earned praise for pushing the envelope in urban design, and alarm over possible privacy rights violations as the sensors would collect data gathered from residents, workers, and visitors.

The fears have been amplified further by the fact that Sidewalk is planning to expand similarly sensor-laden communities into the Port Lands, should the Quayside development prove to be a success.

To assuage the concerns, Sidewalk Labs – a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., the parent company of Google – said that it will not be monetizing the data, and that it will depersonalize all such information collected by the sensors.

The CCLA was not swayed by these assurances, however. The group, along with Toronto resident Lester Brown, filed an application with the Superior Court of Justice, seeking to invalidate any agreements established between Sidewalk Labs and the organization responsible for the area’s redevelopment projects.

“Waterfront Toronto, and our federal, provincial and municipal governments sold-out our constitutional rights to freedom from surveillance and sold it to the global behemoth of behavioural data collection Google,” CCLA executive director and general counsel Michael Bryant stated, as quoted by The Star.

“Google and their competitors take that stuff about us and they sell it to businesses who make bets on what we will buy.”

Sidewalk Labs countered by saying that the claims are based on undue paranoia, and asserted that it is “strongly committed to the protection and privacy of urban data.”

“It’s unfortunate that once again the CCLA has chosen to mischaracterize our work and our engagement with the people of Toronto,” spokesperson Keerthana Rang said in a statement.

“In fact, we’ve been clear in our belief that decisions about the collection and use of urban data should be up to an independent data trust which we are proposing for the Quayside project.”


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