Is Alphabet’s Smart City Plan a Threat to Citizen Data Privacy?

by June 27, 2019

Alphabet Inc has proposed a high-tech smart city project along Toronto’s waterfront. The master plan was released recently with the proposal to provide affordable housing, pacify traffic and cope up climatic change and inequality.

Well, with a great idea come a number of speculations. Although the Alphabet Inc’s unit Sidewalk Labs has guaranteed not to sell residents’ personal data to advertisers yet privacy advocates have expressed concern over the data-breach issue.

The project worth CAD3.9 billion with features promising thermal grid to lower power use and data-driven traffic signals to prioritize pedestrians who need comparatively more time to crossroads. Self-Financing light rail transit will also be added during the project to connect the Greater Toronto Area to the waterfront.

On the other hand, privacy concerned authorities are insisting Sidewalk Labs keep citizen data anonymous. The Sidewalk Labs CEO Daniel L. Doctoroff has confirmed in a press conference, soon after the release of the project, that the company will not disclose any private data to the third party without clear consent.

The project encompasses a 12-acres land known as Quayside and a 153-acres River district in its proposal.

The company plans to make CAD900 million equity investment to aid the project for real estate and advanced systems marked in Quayside and Villiers West. Additionally, the proposal details that Sidewalk Toronto will contribute C$14.2 billion annually to GDP of Canada, CAD4.3 billion in tax revenue and is likely to create 44,000 permanent jobs by 2040.

The Waterfront Toronto will open the public consultation platform by July 15 and decision/voting will be held in the fall and winter of 2019-2020. If the proposal manages to get sufficient public support and consent, the construction shall begin before 2022 at Quayside. The project is bifurcated into 3 volumes – first the development plan with possible impacts on the economy, second is proposed innovation for mobility, sustainability and lastly a commercial offer for governance and implementation.

However, the smart city project has ignited a controversy among authorities and the public regarding excessive surveillance using sensors and chances of unethical data collection. Now the ball is under the court of public either to accept the plan and proceed further or compromise it is light of privacy and security.