Dan Doctoroff and Stephen Diamond could hardly suppress their affection for each other at their January 13 joint luncheon address hosted by the Toronto Region Board of Trade.
We've been closely following the plan by Google sister company Sidewalk Labs to build a surveilling "smart city" in Toronto; last week, I sat down with the Out of Left Field podcast (MP3) to discuss what's going on with Sidewalk Labs, how it fits into the story of Big Tech, and what the alternatives might be.
[I'm delighted to welcome Lilian Radovac back for another excellent piece on the digital surveillance shenanigans in Canada, which aren't always as showy as their stateside counterparts, but are every bit as worrying. In this piece, Radovac reveals the buried plan for a finance-sector managed, all-surveilling National ID card buried in the latest massive wedge of largely unread documents from Google spin-out Sidewalk Labs (previously) that is building a controversial, privatised city-within-a-city in Toronto -Cory]
In Sidewalk Toronto news, Sidewalk Labs has finally released its Master Innovation and Development Plan Digital Innovation Appendix. As with the 1,524 page MIDP before it, there's a lot to read in the DIA but a few excerpts already stand out.
Tomorrow, Toronto's City Council will hold a key vote on Sidewalk Labs's plan to privatize much of the city's lakeshore in the name of creating a "smart city" owned by Google's parent company, Alphabet.
Sidewalk Labs (previously) is a "smart city" company that was spun out of Google, though it remains owned by Alphabet, Google's parent company; Sidewalk Labs's first major outing is a planned "experimental city" on Toronto's lakeshore, and it's been a disaster, from the bullying it used to get the project's initial approval to being outed for sneaking a massive expansion into the agreement and then lying about it, to mass resignations by its privacy advisors, who denounced the project as a corporate surveillance city whose "privacy protections" were mere figleafs for unfettered, nonconsensual collection and exploitation of residents' data.
Sidewalk Labs is the division of Alphabet/Google that builds "smart city" technology; their most ambitious project to date is a massive privatised city-within-a-city planned for Toronto's lakeshore — a project that received secretly approval to be much larger than was announced, a fact that Sidewalk lied about.
Cory published a writeup of my research showing Google offshoot Sidewalk Labs' plan to build a surveilling city in Toronto involves a much, much larger chunk of land than publicly disclosed (in fact about 2,600 acres of prime Toronto waterfront!). — Read the rest
Alphabet division Sidewalk Labs (a sister company to Google) is poised to spend $50,000,000 to redevelop a piece of Toronto waterfront called Quayside, filling it with "modular, dynamic" buildings that can be reconfigured as their uses change, data-gathering sensors that will help Sidewalk refine its own products and also allow Quayside to tune its zoning, usage, and management from moment to moment, as well as a new Google headquarters and a bunch of startups, and "affordable" micro-apartments starting at 162 square feet.
[Rosemary Frei is an independent journalist who broke the story that Google's Sidewalk Labs had quietly sewn up the rights to turn most of Toronto's lakeshore into a surveilling "smart city" (Google/Sidewalk lied about this at first, were cornered, admitted it, and rolled back the plan). — Read the rest
Yesterday, Waterfront Toronto unanimously approved the continuation of Sidewalk Labs's plans for "Quayside," a privatised, surveillance-oriented "smart city" that has been mired in controversy since its earliest days, including secret bullying campaigns, mass resignations of privacy advisors, lies that drastically understated the scope of the project, civil liberties lawsuits, and denunciations by the indigenous elders who were consulted on the project.
Sidewalk Labs is Google's sister company that sells "smart city" technology; its showcase partner is Toronto, my hometown, where it has made a creepy shitshow out of its freshman outing, from the mass resignations of its privacy advisors to the underhanded way it snuck in the right to take over most of the lakeshore without further consultations (something the company straight up lied about after they were outed). — Read the rest
Google's Sidewalk Labs convinced Toronto to let it build an all-surveilling "smart city" on a small patch of lakefront and then promptly shenaniganized things, breaking all its privacy and transparency promises and prompting a mass exodus of its advisory board members and other watchdogs.
Google sister company Sidewalk Labs is building a creepy, heavily surveilled "smart city" in the midst of Toronto.
Last week, my city became a garbage fire. Within 48 hours of a mass shooting on Toronto's Danforth Avenue, City Council had passed a motion to purchase the American acoustic surveillance system ShotSpotter, making Toronto the first Canadian municipality to adopt the technology. As Americans already know, the system is designed to monitor "at risk" (read: poor and black) neighbourhoods for potential gunshots, which it geolocates and pushes to local law enforcement personnel for a substantial fee. Of course, ShotSpotter would have done nothing to prevent the tragedy on the Danforth and there are real questions about its effectiveness as a gunshot detection system, but why let facts get in the way of a rash political decision?
Adam Greenfield (previously) is one of the best thinkers when it comes to the social consequences of ubiquitous computing and smart cities; he's the latest contributor Ian Bogost's special series on "smart cities" for The Atlantic (previously: Bruce Sterling, Molly Sauter).
Eric Schmidt, the ex-Sun CEO who came onboard at Google to be the "adult supervision" for the founders and who has repeatedly declared privacy dead and dismissed people who worried about surveillance business-models as unrealistic nutcases, is stepping down as head of Alphabet, the parent company of Google.