Alphabet has a project running currently in Toronto that plans to build a “Smart City” on waterfront property there. Apparently this project is aimed at millennials and younger generations who will be in the market to buy condominiums in the near future.
At issue, however, for concerned citizens of Toronto, are the plans set out by Alphabet and their partners, Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto, to fully “sensor-tize” the properties, whereby residents might expect to be tracked by sensors in the walls of their homes and around the property as well as from adjoining infrastructure sensors in traffic signals and other “public” areas. People in Toronto are rightly concerned about the privacy of people’s personal information and data concerning their actions. In a related concern, I was in a meeting this morning where a City staff member described a regional tracking research study that had been conducted to find out who was coming and going from the local area. While one might be inclined to see this as a noble effort, the study had used GPS data to track trips made in and out of the area, with each person tracked from their homes or offices, out of the area, and back to a store or home in the local area. The data used in the study had been gleaned from the apps on peoples’ cellphones that had been collected and sold by the app providers to companies who then sell this kind of data to . . . well, just about anyone who wants it. I wonder if people with these apps readily accessible on their cellphones actually realize the capacity of cellphones and their apps to impact their privacy? I was frankly shocked at how blasé the presenter was about using private information that had not been obtained from the users themselves, but from companies who had essentially stolen that data and then sold it. That’s the concern of the people in Toronto who are raising good questions about privacy and who actually owns private movement information. It used to be that only our intelligence services could have access to this kind of information, and, then, only with a duly executed warrant to allow the intrusion into personal privacy. The Toronto properties are likely to be sold to so-called “younger folks” – that is, those of an age who are not yet aware of the damage that incursions into privacy can actually do.
HOW SMART IS IT TO HAVE “SMART CITIES”?