Frequently Asked Questions

Sidewalk Labs wants to build a neighbourhood from the Internet up.” Do we want this?


Actually, nobody asked us.

Toronto is just starting to define digital governance practices that will serve the public interest. We should have these in place before committing to a partnership whose consequences we can’t control.

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Sidewalk Labs wants to build a neighbourhood that uses data sensors to monitor every aspect of public space. Can we opt out?


No.

There is no option for residents, workers or visitors to opt out of urban data collection, and no safeguards for children, but there should be. All Torontonians deserve the right to say no to ubiquitous surveillance.

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Isn’t the Eastern Waterfront public land? Why are we handing it over to a private corporation?


Good question.


The CEO of Sidewalk Labs, Dan Doctoroff, has publicly stated that Sidewalk Toronto
“is primarily a real estate play.” The Globe & Mail calls it a land grab.” We want future waterfront development to benefit Toronto residents, not American real estate developers.

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How much of the Eastern Waterfront does Sidewalk Labs want to develop?


A lot more of it than we were told.


As originally proposed, the project was limited to a 12 acre area of Quayside. Then, a leaked document revealed that they planned to develop 450 acres of the Port Lands. Now they say they want 190 acres.

Sidewalk Labs isn’t being clear about their intentions. Can they be trusted with our waterfront?

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Why is Sidewalk Labs paying dozens of lobbyists to influence all three levels of  government?


Because it can.
 


As residents, we can’t compete with Sidewalk Labs’ enormous lobbying budget.

But we can vote against government officials who don’t put our interests first. That’s the real power we have in a democracy.

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Sidewalk Labs wants a special discounted rate for the land it plans to  develop.   Should we give it to them?


Hell, no.

Google’s affiliates demand tax breaks for private real estate developments on top of avoiding corporate taxes, and now they want the right to buy waterfront land for less than it’s worth?

We believe that global tech companies should pay their taxes, not profit from ours.

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I’m worried about gentrification. How will Sidewalk Toronto impact the overall cost of living here?


We’re concerned too.


The experience of other North American cities shows that large tech developments drive up rents across entire metropolitan regions. Let’s learn from the mistakes of San Francisco, Seattle and New York City, where the cost of renting a home has outpaced even tech workers’ salaries.
 

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Sidewalk Labs says it wants to make the cost of housing in Toronto more affordable. Will it?


Hmm. The Toronto Star reports that only 5% of the units Sidewalk Labs may build will be truly affordable: i.e., 60% or less of Toronto’s average market rent.  Worse, the company wants a discount on the cost of public land to create these units.


Toronto needs a real affordable housing strategy. This isn’t it.

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I work in tech and need a job. Isn’t Sidewalk Labs /Google good for job creation?


Yes and no.


A leaked internal document shows that more than half of Google’s global workforce is temporary or contract-based, which means they earn less money and have no job security. Meanwhile, will automation threaten good public sector jobs that pay a stable living wage?


We can do better!
 

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Sidewalk Labs wants to use surveillance technologies to change how Torontonians receive health care. Why?


Because there are billions of dollars in profits to be made in health data and AI.


We support universal health care and think that American tech companies have no business running our public health system.

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Is a data-driven city a socially just city?


No.


Studies show that
differential surveillance practices actually harm low-income, minoritized and disabled people, who are particularly vulnerable to algorithmic bias. This is why it’s important to have strong regulatory frameworks in place before we adopt these technologies.
 

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Google is a powerful company. Isn’t Sidewalk Toronto pretty much a done deal?


No!


New York and Berlin have rejected tech developments that didn’t work for their cities, and San Francisco City Council has banned the use of facial recognition software. In February, Toronto said no to a contract with Shotspotter Inc. because of privacy concerns. We can say no again!.

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