A Google-backed project to build the interconnected, data-driven ‘city of the future’ is now in the spotlight after a privacy expert resigned from the project in protest.
Toronto’s Waterfront district used to be an industrial wasteland, but Sidewalk Labs – a sister company of Google – wants to turn that wasteland into a prototype ‘city of the future,’ where data helps planners micromanage every aspect of urban life.
The planned City of Surveillance @ Quayside neighborhood will house 5,000 people when built, expanding to host another 5,000 within three to four years, its creators say.
In running the neighborhood as efficiently as possible, Sidewalk Labs will utilize a range of innovative technologies. Sensors will manage street crowds and time traffic signals appropriately, cameras will watch over parks and public spaces.
Planners will be able to track the movement of every vehicle, person and drone, while garbage cans will monitor their owners’ trash to optimize waste management.
All of these data points will be fed into a database Sidewalk Labs calls its ‘Digital Layer,’ used by planners to monitor and tweak the neighborhood’s running, and then stored in a repository it calls the ‘Civic Data Trust.’
Nobody will own the data stored in the trust, and the trust’s board will decide who can access it.
That’s where the problems begin. Sidewalk Labs’ privacy consultant Ann Cavoukian had requested that the company scrub the residents’ data of all personal information, a request that Sidewalk Labs agreed to.
However, the company said it would not require other parties with access to the trust to ‘de-identify’ any data collected, it would only “encourage” them to.
Sidewalk Labs will allow third parties to build apps that plug into the digital layer, potentially giving them access to residents’ most intimate information.
Your every move, your shopping list, the places you frequently visit, the events you attend and even the contents of your trash could all be fair game for third-party developers.
Former Blackberry co-CEO Jim Balsillie called the project “a colonizing experiment in surveillance capitalism,” and TechGirls Canada founder Saadia Muzaffar said she had “profound concerns” about the company’s “lack of leadership regarding shaky public trust.”
With Google already enjoying unfettered access to your digital life, Sidewalk Labs’ Toronto project looks set to extend that access into your physical life too. No wonder experts like Cavoukian are troubled by the privacy implications.
AI algorithm can also find you in CCTV footage without using face recognition by searching for their clothing, height and gender.
With no legislation in place to limit its potential, the technology could be utilized for nefarious means such as illegal surveillance of activists and journalists, or wide scale monitoring of civilians by oppressive governments.
RT.com / ABC Flash Point Cyber News 2018.