A privacy expert has quit the Google-owned Sidewalk Labs smart city project, citing fears of constant surveillance within the proposed city.
Ann Cavoukian, the former privacy commissioner of Ontario and a consultant to Sidewalk Labs, a company owned by Google which aims to develop a “smart city” in Toronto, has quit the project according to Gizmodo. Cavoukian was recruited to join the project as a consultant but handed in her resignation letter recently, stating: “I imagined us creating a Smart City of Privacy, as opposed to a Smart City of Surveillance.”
In 2017, Waterfront Toronto enlisted the help of Sidewalk Labs, which is linked to Google’s parent company Alphabet, to develop a plan for a smart city in the town’s Quayside area. As part of this development, Cavoukian created a plan called Privacy by Design which aimed to protect the data privacy of the citizens of the smart city. But the smart city has faced a growing level of criticism since it’s announcement.
Jim Balsillie, the former CEO of Blackberry, recently referred to the development in an op-ed as “a colonizing experiment in surveillance capitalism attempting to bulldoze important urban, civic and political issues.” Cavoukian stated that her resignation from the project was intended to be a “strong statement” on user data privacy abuses.
“I felt I had no choice because I had been told by Sidewalk Labs that all of the data collected will be de-identified at source,” said Cavoukian. She reportedly resigned after discovering that such anonymization methods could not be guaranteed and citizens’ data could be at risk. When Cavoukian realized that third-parties may have access to the data, she felt it was time to leave the project: “When I heard that, I said, ‘I’m sorry. I can’t support this. I have to resign because you committed to embedding privacy by design into every aspect of your operation.'”
Sidewalk Labs explained in a statement that after the meeting with Waterfront Toronto’s Digital Strategy Advisory, “it became clear that Sidewalk Labs would play a more limited role in near-term discussions about a data governance framework at Quayside… Though that question is settled, the question of whether other companies involved in the Quayside project would be required to do so is unlikely to be worked out soon, and may be out of Sidewalk Labs’ hands,” the statement read. “For these reasons and others, Dr. Cavoukian has decided that it does not make sense to continue working as a paid consultant for Sidewalk Labs.”
Waterfront Toronto released their own statement saying that it “has great respect for Dr. Cavoukian and Privacy by Design,” and said it “recognizes and respects the obligation to adhere to Canadian privacy laws, which go beyond Privacy by Design.”
TechGirls Canada founder Saadia Muzaffar recently stepped down from her position at the Waterfront Toronto Digital Strategy Advisory Panel due to concerns that Waterfront Toronto has evaded questions about privacy and shown “apathy and a lack of leadership regarding shaky public trust.”