Google’s Sidewalk Labs has partnered with the city of Toronto to build a 12-acre smart city known as the Quayside project. It is intended to be an environmentally conscious and technologically high-end solution to the city’s problems regarding affordable housing and public transportation. It would be one of the world’s first smart city’s, but public opposition is posing yet another threat to it’s development along Toronto’s eastern waterfront, according to The Guardian.
US venture capitalist Roger McNamee, for instance, recently raised concerns regarding Google’s intention to incorporate surveillance that infringes on privacy rights, calling the smart city “the most highly evolved version to date of … surveillance capitalism” in a letter to the city council. McNamee is no stranger to the power of innovative technology, as he was an early investor in Facebook and Google and is the co-founder of one of the world’s largest technology investors, Silver Lake Partners.
“No matter what Google is offering, the value to Toronto cannot possibly approach the value your city is giving up,” he wrote, calling for the complete abandonment of the project. “It is a dystopian vision that has no place in a democratic society.”
This letter, along with a chorus of other concerned and/or frustrated voices in opposition to the project, has pushed the project’s advisory panel, Waterfront Toronto, to delay a vote on the development, claiming to need time to ensure an “accountable, transparent, and extensive” evaluation of Google’s plans. Jim Balsille, co-founder of Blackberry maker Research in Motion, for instance, called Quayside “a colonizing experiment in surveillance capitalism attempting to bulldoze important urban, civic and political issues.”
Quayside originally wanted to build 2,500 housing units and price nearly half of them under market value and eventually explore the possibilities of covering 800 acres of the city’s Port Lands in smart city. It quickly became clear, however, that things were not totally kosher. Entrepreneur Saadia Muzaffar resigned in early October from the project’s advisory panel due to Waterfront Toronto’s lack of transparency, saying the organization showed “apathy and a lack of leadership regarding shaky public trust.”
Google, however, resists any claims that the smart city infringes on any sort of public rights. “As we have made clear, we believe that data collected in public space must be overseen and closely controlled by an independent and publicly accountable Data Trust, not Sidewalk Labs, Google, or any private company,” said spokesperson Keerthana Rang.