A unit of Google’s parent company Alphabet is proposing to turn a rundown part of Toronto’s waterfront into what may be the most wired community in history — to “fundamentally refine what urban life can be.”
Sidewalk Labs has partnered with a government agency known as Waterfront Toronto with plans to erect mid-rise apartments, offices, shops and a school on a 12-acre (4.9-hectare) site — a first step toward what it hopes will eventually be a 800-acre (325-hectare) development.
High-level interest is clear: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Alphabet’s then-Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt appeared together to announce the plan last October.
But some Canadians are rethinking the privacy implications of giving one of the most data-hungry companies on the planet the means to wire up everything from street lights to pavement. And some want the public to get a cut of the revenue from products developed using Canada’s largest city as an urban laboratory.
“The Waterfront Toronto executives and board are too dumb to realize they are getting played,” said former BlackBerry chief executive Jim Balsillie, a smartphone pioneer considered a national hero who also said the federal government is pushing the board to approve it.
“Google knew what they wanted. And the politicians wanted a PR splash and the Waterfront board didn’t know what they are doing. And the citizens of Toronto and Canada are going to pay the price,” Balsillie said.
Emphasis is ours.
“Smart” homes, “smart” cars, now “smart” neighborhoods… it was only a matter of time. Adding data collection functionality to buildings, appliances, and even entire communities is not smart, it’s reckless and a recipe for trouble. Imagine the ability to gain control over an entire neighborhood by compromising the software that runs it.
There is nothing “smart” about these technologies.
Three cheers for Jim Balsillie. It’s nice to see such bluntness from a person of his stature.
This project should not proceed. Toronto would be wise to pull the plug and say thanks, but no thanks, to this scheme to exploit the common good for the benefit of Alphabet/Google’s unceasing, unending war on privacy.