Waterfront Toronto recently announced its board vote on the Sidewalk Labs plan has been pushed back to May 20th, "to allow the public more time to offer input into Waterfront Toronto’s evaluation of Sidewalk Lab’s proposals for Quayside." To date, only one date for public consultation has been announced: February 29th at the Westin Harbourcastle Hotel.
We aren't waiting.
On February 26th, several community groups have called a meeting, inviting elected representatives to hear directly from residents about new and ongoing concerns with the Sidewalk Labs affair, and a call to intervene in the public interest.
Please join ACORN, Good Jobs for all, Climate Justice Toronto, Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, BlockSidewalk and many others on February 26, 6:30 PM, at St. Paul's on Bloor (Great Hall), 227 Bloor St. East. You can RSVP/register here.
Waterfront Toronto rushed into a partnership with Sidewalk Labs in 2017, to design a smart city that no one asked for. Over the next two years, residents were subjected a multi-million dollar persuasion effort before Sidewalk Labs made an actual proposal public. Waterfront Toronto, which by then had received over $5 million in funding from Sidewalk Labs, held public consultations on proposals that vastly exceeded the scope of its own "request for proposals." As this helpful backgrounder by Good Jobs for All explains, Waterfront Toronto's conflicted position persisted after the agency prevailed upon Sidewalk Labs to restrict its proposals, at least initially, to a 12-acre plot of publicly owned land on October 31, 2019.
Since the beginning, public consultations have been anchored in the company's vision: what kind of smart city tech we want, how we should build a test-bed community, lending the partnership an air of inevitability. But residents are not done asking whether we want Google's for-profit test bed on the waterfront, why we ended up with this controversy, and what alternatives we are missing out on if we capitulate to the partnership's desires.
If you are able to make a donation to help us cover the costs of organizing and advertising this event, you can do so here (with many thanks!): blocksidewalk.ca/donate.
Stay in touch! Follow the action on Twitter (@blocksidewalk) or Facebook (@BlockSidewalkTO) in between emails. Note: our Facebook handle has changed. You can stay abreast of key dates by visiting https://www.blocksidewalk.ca/events.
Human rights impact assessment: A team lead by Montreal-based tech company, ElementAI, has begun a Human Rights Impact Assessment "identifying and understanding potential human rights implications associated with the urban innovations proposed by Sidewalk Labs for Quayside," according to Waterfront Toronto. The team will begin interviews with stakeholders in two weeks (contact WT_HRIA@elementai.com to share your views), despite the fact that no one outside Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs knows what precisely is being proposed.
For an introduction to concerns about Sidewalk Labs' parent, Alphabet (formerly Google), see the recently released report by Amnesty International: Surveillance Giants: How the business model of Google and Facebook threatens human rights.
City Council vote on Digital Infrastructure Plan:
Toronto's Executive Committee heard updates regarding ongoing and upcoming work on Toronto’s Digital Infrastructure Plan (DIP) on January 23rd. Staff anticipate the DIP will be finished in 18-24 months - in other words, after key approval deadlines for the Sidewalk Labs proposal have passed.
The staff report recommends the City begin to apply five "guiding principles" to assess digital infrastructure projects while regulations are being finalized. To be sure, this is an improvement over the status quo - but we need to go further. At a minimum, city staff should have the tools to hold the assessment and approval of major digital infrastructure proposals until regulations are finalized, if necessary (for example, if staff deem there is a high risk to human rights; if a proposed technology is disruptive; if behavioural data would be collected).
Toronto’s Digital Infrastructure Plan is meant to protect the public interest. Sidewalk Labs should not be able to slip a massive, precedent-setting proposal through right before rules are finalized and in place. Several residents wrote or spoke up to flag this risk of corporate capture at Executive Committee, among other thoughtful suggestions. You can read some submissions here, and watch a recording of the meeting here (39:30).
Meagan Simpson, "Google to open up three new Canadian offices in Toronto, Montreal, Waterloo," Betakit, February 6, 2020
John Henley and Robert Booth,"Welfare surveillance system violates human rights, Dutch court rules; Government told to halt use of AI to detect fraud in decision hailed by privacy campaigners." The Guardian, February 5, 2020.
Bianca Wylie, "Report from Executive Committee on Sidewalk Toronto. Plus a word about consent, consultation and innovation." Medium, January 30, 2020.
Josh O'Kane, "Waterfront Toronto tries to block legal attempt to shut down Sidewalk Labs smart city project," Globe and Mail, January 31, 2020.
Alex Boutilier, "Facial recognition technology poses 'enormous potential for abuse," NDP says." Hamilton Spectator, January 28, 2020.
Nour Malas and Rob Copeland, "Google wants to pour money into San Jose. The city has a few demands." Wall Street Journal, January 28, 2020.
Blayne Haggart, "The flaw at the heart of Waterfront Toronto's innovation plan," Blayne Haggart's Orangespace, January 24, 2020.
May Warren, "Waterfront Toronto pushes deadline for decision on Quayside smart city project to May 20," Toronto Star, January 23, 2020.
Bonnie Stewart, "One ring to rule them all: Surveillance "smart tech" won't make Canadian cities safer," The Conversation, January 21, 2020
Megan Simpson, "Toronto tech sector sees 16.6% jump in employment from 2018," Betakit, January 20, 2020
ICYMI (because we did!):
Adam Cole, “Google and Amazon are now in the oil business.” Vox, January 3, 2020.
Amanda Roth, "Scheduling key board vote around Justin Trudeau's schedule was bad optics, Waterfront Toronto chair admits." The Logic, December 11, 2019