December 1, 2019: Who's in charge?

UPDATE: Who's in charge, continued: Waterfront Toronto - Sidewalk Labs partnership remains murky

Image credit: Waterfront Toronto

On November 19th, Waterfront Toronto held a public briefing to update community members on the Sidewalk Labs project, following the "realignment" of October 31st.  Audience members, visibly frustrated, called for clarity over what, exactly, Sidewalk Labs currently proposed for Quayside, and whether Waterfront Toronto's role was to be co-author, advocate or evaluator of the plan (or a combination of all). 

A distrust of Sidewalk Labs, Google and Alphabet was again on display, with one audience member asking whether Google's recent grab of personal health information of millions of Americans, without the consent or knowledge of patients or physicians, wasn't enough to "cancel the plan."

Since October 31st, Sidewalk Labs has resumed an aggressive PR plan that appears to circumvent its public sector partner.  The company released its digital innovation appendix to the Toronto Star after missing a deadline to submit the plan to Waterfront Toronto's panel of digital experts.  It has begun announcing investments and initiatives seemingly conditional on Waterfront Toronto's approval of the plan, including a small venture fund and a partnership with a community college.


If "job creation" is one of the reasons Waterfront Toronto is looking to Google affiliate Sidewalk Labs for a plan to develop public land on our waterfront, Google's record as an employer seems relevant to the evaluation process.  This record, over the past year, has been grim. 


On November 21, Amnesty International released a new report entitled Surveillance giants: How the business model of Google and Facebook threatens human rights. The report describes companies' dominance over our digital lives and the "digital public square" in most of the world; its harvesting and monetizing personal data and its exploitative use of algorithms.

"Either we must submit to this pervasive surveillance machinery – where our data are easily weaponized to manipulate and influence us – or forego the benefits of the digital world. This can never be a legitimate choice. We must reclaim this essential public square, so we can participate without having our rights abused," said Kumi Naidoo, Secretary General of Amnesty International.

Toronto residents have been asking similar questions about Sidewalk Labs' proposed test-bed neighbourhood: can homeowners, tenants and visitors opt out of participating in the tests?  Is the alternative to not be able to reside on or visit the site?


Peter Armstrong, "Huawei funds $65 million in academic research in Canada, and that has some experts worried." CBC News, November 29, 2019.

Matt Galloway, "It can be a positive force but it can be weaponized': Jim Balsillie on how companies use your data," CBC Metro Morning, November 28, 2019.

Donovan Vincent, "Sidewalk Labs dangles $10 million for venture capital fund if Toronto Quayside is approved," Toronto Star, November 26, 2019.

Josh O'Kane, "Opponents of Sidewalk Labs get advice from German tech protestors," Globe and Mail, November 25, 2019.

Kate Conger and Daisuke Wakabayashi, "Google fires 4 workers active in union organizing," New York Times, November 25, 2019.

Google Walkout for Real Change, "Google's next "moonshot": Union-busting." Medium, November 25, 2019.

Lauren Kaori Gurley, "Google workers are protesting the suspension of two of their activist colleagues," Vice, November 21, 2019.

Amnesty International, "Facebook and Google's unprecedented surveillance poses an unprecedented danger to human rights,", November 21, 2019.

Mason Marks, "The right question to ask about Project Nightingale: Regulators should be focusing on exactly what Google plans to do with the dataSlate, November 20, 2019.

Jennifer Elias, "Google employees protested the interrogation of two colleagues by the company's investigations team, memo says." CNBC, November 19, 2019.

Andrew Parkin, "Influence in Canadian Politics," Environics, November 19, 2019.


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