'Alphabet's plans to develop a Toronto neighborhood could set a dangerous precedent for the future of data-driven cities, according to data governance experts.
Last month, Sidewalk Labs, the urban innovation arm of Google's parent company Alphabet, released a 1,524-page report detailing plans for developing a portion of Toronto's waterfront.
The report, weighing more than 14 pounds, exhaustively detailed the perks of Alphabet's vision, including streets without traffic congestion and air pollution, as well as inventive ways of dealing with harsh weather.
But when it came to discussing the handling of people's data, Alphabet offered only a handful of pages with few new details. Sidewalk Labs describes the creation of an independent agency to manage data collection agreements with companies and make sure the collection is beneficial for the community.
Pedestrians walking in the neighborhood shortly after it launches will likely be tracked as they walk down streets, enter certain stores and spend time in parks.
But it's not just about the data that will be collected about any given visitor on day one. It's the risks we don't even know about yet, the ones that may accrue over time as data collection broadens and gets more powerful. Innovations such as self-driving cars and drones will create new ways to collect data. Businesses, including Sidewalk Labs and others, will want even more data, and it's difficult to predict what all of the new, data-collecting innovations will be.
Recent scandals, from the Equifax hack to Facebook's Cambridge Analytica debacle, have highlighted the importance of protecting data. Sidewalk Labs plans to build a neighborhood "from the Internet up," adding sensors that will turn streets and sidewalks into a digital space, increasing the opportunity for privacy issues, discriminatory algorithms and data breaches. Sidewalk Labs describes data being collected everywhere from building lobbies and retail stores to ride-hail vehicles, parks and markets, but no way to opt out entirely.'
Read more: Alphabet's plans to track people in its 'smart city' ring alarm bells