Toronto ‘smart city’ rife with privacy and security implications

by Ephraim Vecina07 Jun 2019

Rutgers Law School professor Ellen P. Goodman has warned Torontonians that the convenience offered by the “smart community” being developed in their city is not worth risking their privacy and personal liberty for.

The Quayside project, a joint venture by Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs, has drawn considerable criticism. Much of the condemnation stemmed from data privacy and transparency concerns.

The development is shaping up to be “an example of a project so massive that it’s impossible to look at every single piece,” Goodman wrote in a recent contribution to The Globe and Mail.

“What happens to data here – the liminal concrete edge ostensibly owned by the city, but contested by companies looking to gather every scrap of data they can get – will dictate the future of our rights to park and dock, and even the ability to pass by without notice.”

Goodman took particular umbrage at the set-up’s lack of trustworthy outside oversight.

“Sidewalk Labs has proposed a private interface to manage the data. It will likely turn to another Alphabet company, Coord, which is mapping curbs and selling the data, or another affiliate, Replica, which has secured a sole-source contract in Illinois to model urban movement. These arrangements create the potential for dangerous lock-in, dependency, and privatization.”

Fundamental questions also remain unanswered – which is why Goodman is advising the public to remain wary.

“What can be collected at the curb (or in the public realm more generally) and how will they be used? And there’s the matter of intellectual property: Who gets to commercialize technologies piloted in the new district?”

Earlier this week, Waterfront Toronto announced that it is pushing back several months a board vote on whether to continue (or not) the development of the “smart city.”

Initially slated for September, the board vote will now be conducted in December or January 2020. The organization said that this delay will pave the way for a more comprehensive evaluation of the project.

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