Why Is Google Secret Smart City Making People Anxious

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Google has built a huge online empire by observing and gauging almost everything.

Clicks. Visits. GPS coordinates. Traffic.

Now Google is moving a step further by leveraging its suite of technology services, Artificial Intelligence and IoT to build something that promises to improve quality of lifestyle even further. It had caught attention ever since Google-affiliated company Sidewalk Labs announced its plans of building a ‘smart city’ on Toronto Waterfront.

Sidewalk Labs, owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet, signed a contractual deal last year with Waterfront Toronto, an urban-development corporation, to redevelop a 12-acre plot of land in city’s downtown area called ‘Quayside’. Sidewalk Labs has already pushed in $50 million in the project.

The actual idea involves collection of data about everything, through embedded sensors, from water use to air quality, traffic flow, noise level, waste output, travel patterns and tracking information on Quayside’s populace. This would help run energy, transport and other systems to build a highly sustainable and Eco-friendly smart neighbourhood. Once the company materializes its concept it plans to expand its vision to the entire 800-acre waterfront area. Though it seems quite ambitious, the foundation is already being laid.

The locals still think, “What’s in it for Toronto”?

Google Secret Smart City: Residents Are Anxious

This breakout has created rumours as to what kinds of next-gen technology might be in store. Some might ponder about futuristic tech like flying cars. On the downside, in the recent revelation of data breach of millions of Facebook users, people are sceptical of what all Google or Sidewalk Labs would do with the gathered data.

Even the common folks are now aware of the fact that data is a valuable asset, thanks to Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook! The situation has turned messier as the details of the arrangement are not yet public. People are worried as they know a little less about what exactly are they getting from Sidewalk and more importantly what are they giving for it.

The project has attracted a lot of global minds and eyes for being one of the first smart cities designed from ground up with the help of internet. In all over the idea sounds intriguing but considering the recent scenarios, it is bound to raise concerns about privacy.

Council’s representative on Waterfront Toronto’s board, Mr Minnan-Wong is the only elected official to actually see the legal agreement. Even the Mayor doesn’t know what the city has signed up for.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau flew down to make the official announcement of the agreement with the Sidewalk Labs.

Despite Mr. Wong’s belief that the public should know what is being hidden from them, he was not legally allowed to comment on the contents of the agreement. Even the officials of Waterfront Toronto don’t know what is going on, the one’s who do are not permitted to be vocal about the details.

In reality, Google has agreed that it has spent $10 million secretly to plan on producing agreements that would be implemented only if the city and government authorities abide by Google’s compliances. The underlying problem is that the officials would get little access to the information that Google acquires from its citizens. Officials are just happy to look forward to the shiny and superficial image shown by Google. The design layout published so far by Sidewalk is visually arresting.

Tech firms are under scrutiny on how they acquire and use people’s data. As for privacy, Sidewalk Labs says it is very serious about it and is working with Chantal Bernier, former federal privacy commissioner, to plan on setting a global standard for how smart cities should treat people’s data. But the chances of how data will be collected and stored remain slim.

Recently this week, Google with Sidewalk Labs launched Old-Toronto map of historical photos, an interesting way to explore Toronto with archived photos.

An imperative question is whether this IOT powered smart city plans on creating trustworthiness and providing a better livelihood for its citizens or make them more vulnerable. Also, Does Google wants to make Toronto as the Google City in future or it is just an experiment to bench-marking a smart city?


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