Sidewalk Labs Toronto Quayside 'Smart City'
Occurred: May 2020
Proposed in October 2017 by Google affiliate Sidewalk Labs in response to a competition, Sidewalk Toronto was an urban development project the Quayside area of Toronto that was to be built 'from the internet up' and aimed to become 'a testbed for emerging technologies, materials and processes'.
Sidewalk Labs intended (pdf) to use artificial intelligence, sensors and other data-collection devices to monitor, analyse and optimise pedestrian traffic, noise, weather conditions, and energy and garbage use, amongst other things.
The proposal proved highly controversial, particularly with regard to its business model, perceived techno-solutionism, and privacy implications, and it was abandoned in May 2020, supposedly due to COVID-19.
Urban Data Trust
With data envisaged as central to the workings of the new district, the question of how it would be managed was important.
Sidewalk Labs proposed an independent 'Urban Data Trust' to govern the collection and management, but was seen to have failed to provide meaningful detail, leading Members of Waterfront Toronto’s Digital Strategy Advisory Panel to complain the plan was 'frustratingly abstract' and it's ambitions 'misguided'.
It also prompted a outcry amongst civil right and privacy advocates, and the general public, about privacy, concerns supported by research indicating that 60% of Toronto citizens did not trust Sidewalk Labs to collect data on residents, and that 58% did not think the company would keep its commitment not to use resident data for advertising purposes.
In response, Sidewalk Labs recommended shifting data governance from the Urban Data Trust to vesting authority in the existing Waterfront Toronto government partnership.
Operator: Waterfront Toronto
Developer: Alphabet/Google; Sidewalk Labs
Sidewalk Toronto Digital Innovation Appendix (pdf)
Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA). Toronto's Smart City. Our Fight for Privacy
Al-Fahim M., Frankenberg S. Qualms with Quayside: Public Engagement in the Toronto Smart City Project (pdf)
CitizenFirst (2020). Sidewalk Labs Toronto: ‘A Thriving Hub for Innovation’ vs. ‘A City of Surveillance’ (pdf)
Lim W. (2020). Quayside Smart Community Case Study of Sidewalk Lab’s ‘City as a Platform’ (pdf)
Flynn A., Valverde M. (2019). Where The Sidewalk Ends: The Governance Of Waterfront Toronto's Sidewalk Labs Deal (pdf)
Forum Research (2019). Support for Sidewalk Toronto Mixed
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Published: March 2023