Meeting Sidewalk Labs head on

Sidewalk Labs is a sister company of Google, under the umbrella of global giant Alphabet Inc. Sidewalk has its eye on Toronto’s Portlands and we’d better keep an eye on them. I signed up to follow #blocksidewalk. Danica and I went to our first meeting tonight, at the Ralph Thornton Centre.

A classic beginning for scrutinizing what has been a troubling, secretive planning process.

Councillor Fletcher touched briefly on privacy and data collection issues that threaten to turn Torontonians into lab rats, but put more emphasis on the “land grab”. The stakes are huge and we have already been kept in the dark about development plans for years.

A crowd of nearly 200 cheered the lawsuit launched by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association against Sidewalk Labs. Waterfront Toronto (Sidewalk’s planning partner in all this) has finally agreed to let everyone read the Sidewalk Labs proposal within a week of receiving it. That’s a BIG deal that got many thumbs up. Far too much has been going on behind closed doors up until now.

The meeting was tightly run and well-organized. #BlockSidewalk is going to be a strong public voice.

Tonight’s meeting was mainly about process. I tend to glaze over when bureaucratese is spoken, but it’s like reading the small print lawyers love. We don’t like it, but we can’t ignore it if we don’t want to be swindled.

I will show you something I found encouraging, in the next photo. Look at all those young heads of hair.

Young, energetic, tech savvy citizens are resisting, demanding to be fully informed and consulted.

3 thoughts on “Meeting Sidewalk Labs head on”

  1. I don’t understand this project at all. What are these sensors going to sense. Beyond facial rec how can they gather info about me that I don’t give them. Are they going to hack my phone. Follow me around. I’m confused and I don’t trust Google. And aren’t heated sidewalks wasteful of electricity. Just saying…

  2. We are all mystified, Brian, because meetings have been held in private and participants have been silenced with non-disclosure agreements. Why the secrecy, we wonder. Taking a position of distrust at this stage seems very reasonable.

    A “leaked” document reveals Sidewalk Labs ambitions to worrk outside the 12 acres they were granted permission to experiment with. They are thinking in terms of over 300 acres and their plan apparently depends on that scope or it cannot succeed. The leak included Sidewalk Labs dream of collecting tax revenues as a way of monetizing their work. What!?!

    The source of the leak remains unknown. It could have been Sidewalk itself, floating a trial balloon.

    Privacy issues include physical tracking of individual’s movements in real time, storage of data outside of Canadian jurisdiction, sales of personal data to third parties, and anonymization of data before storage. There have been high level resignations already over the plans, so it is is a significant battleground.

    Privacy extends well beyond knowing where you are, what you buy, with whom you associate and what you have for liunch. It includes your own access to data. Are you allowed to see it? Will some people get useful or valuable info, while others are shut out? Knowledge affects power power to act.

    Our legislation is not up to speed with the implications of data collection and surveillance, so our protection is minimal at present. The very least we must have is openessness of process in the development of public policy. To date, that has been denied, arousing suspicion that our interests are not being served. We deserve a look and a say.

    As for real estate, Toronto has already developed extensive plans for the Portlands, openly and legitimately. With the current agreement, Sidewalk Labs has absolutely no authority to step outside its 12 acre experimental patch.

    The best news at the moment is that Waterfront Toronto is now accepting responsibility for releasing the Sidewalk Labs proposal to the public, within one week of receiving it. That will probably happen soon. Then maybe we’ll have a better idea about what’s going on.

    Waterfront Toronto has the authority to accept all, part or NONE of Sidewalk Labs’ proposals, as it wishes.

    • It is complicated so it will probably scare Dougie, who is the one will all the power. He wants a ferris wheel and a shopping mall. At this point I’m against it. Was it Cicero who posed the question, “Who benefits?”

      Hold on for the ride, the next three years are going to be bumpy.

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