November 18, 2019: Two questions for Waterfront Toronto briefing


Waterfront Toronto will hold a briefing to update members of the public on the Quayside development tomorrow night, 6-9 pm, at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.  The event will be live-streamed, but if you attend in person, you'll be able to ask questions. Here are two questions we think need to be asked.

1. What is the plan for Quayside?  With Sidewalk Labs' June plan off the table (possibly), what exactly is moving forward for evaluation?  Will Waterfront Toronto commit to evaluating a definitive proposal, or will we keep having to chase a moving target?

2. Is Waterfront Toronto the author of the plan or the evaluator?  Will Sidewalk Labs help write the rules that will apply to them?  While Waterfront Toronto's Chair has asserted the agency is back in charge of the development process, we haven't seen amendments to the legal document governing the relationship between the parties (the "Plan Development Agreement").  In fact, the letter outlining the details of the realignment suggests the lines remained blurred, with Waterfront Toronto collaborating on an Innovation Plan it will later evaluate (p. 2), and Sidewalk Labs accorded a role in the development of standards and guidelines that will apply to its proposals (p.3). 


Residents have called out these blurred roles as problematic from the very beginning of this controversial partnership.  Time to #BlockSidewalk and re-set work on Quayside. 

Image credit: Waterfront Toronto

2. UPDATE: Who's in charge? Seven days after "realignment," Sidewalk Labs reverts to problematic practices

On October 31st, Waterfront Toronto announced it had turned a corner in its two-year saga with Google affiliate Sidewalk Labs.  The alignment was meant to put tri-government agency Waterfront Toronto back in charge of the Quayside development.  Last week, the realignment faced its first test.

Waterfront Toronto's Digital Strategy Advisory Panel (DSAP) published a critique of innovations proposed by Sidewalk Labs' Master Innovation and Development Plan (MIDP) in September, calling some of them "frustratingly abstract," or "tech for tech's sake." Sidewalk Labs responded by promising a 400-page "Digital Innovations Appendix" (DIA) addressing some of these concerns.  These were due to be considered at the November 7 DSAP meeting, open to the public.

Right before the meeting, Sidewalk Labs announced it would not release its Digital Innovations Appendix, bypassing Waterfront Toronto's advisory committee and instead "leaking" the report directly to the Toronto Star seven days later, with no critics cited.  This behaviour, while consistent, shows no evidence of a "realignment" with the waterfront revitalization agency.

Early reactions point out several issues with Sidewalk Labs' new appendix: lack of clarity on basic questions about data collection, an pathway into the privatization of public services (including health care!), a lack of detail on costs and financing and problems with the DIA's approach to patents.


Since Waterfront Toronto decided to continue to evaluate Sidewalk Labs' controversial proposals for Toronto's Waterfront, its sister company, Google, continues to be battered by crises. Wall St. Journal published two exposes within a single week: first, reporting how Google's partnership with Ascension Health in the U.S. collected personal health data without the knowledge or consent of patients or doctors, which has triggered a federal inquiry.  Days later, reporters revealed how Google's search engine, far from being an impartial curator of information on the web, has become "the world's dominant ad machine." Google's incursion into health data has also aggravated concerns over the company's acquisition of FitBit.


Jathan Sadowski, "The Captured City: The "smart city" makes infrastructure and surveillance indistinguishable." Real Life, November 12, 2019.

Rob Copeland and Sarah Needleman, "Google's 'Project Nightingale' gathers personal health data on millions of Americans." Wall St. Journal, November 12, 2019.

"Privacy activists urge U.S. to block Google's acquisition of Fitbit," PBS News, November 13, 2019.

Josh O'Kane, "Sidewalk Labs stays mum on technological infrastructure costs." Globe and Mail, November 15, 2019.

James MacLeod, "Sidewalk Labs digital update brings new details, but many questions remain." Financial Post, November 15, 2019.

Kirsten Grind,Sam Schechner, Robert McMillan and John West, "How Google interferes with its search algorithms and changes your results." Wall St. Journal, November 15, 2019.
Douglas MacMillan and Greg Benzinger, "Google almost made 100,000 chest x-rays public - until it realized personal data could be exposed." Washington Post, November 15, 2019.

Lilian Radovac, "Sidewalk Labs' quiet plan for Canada's banks to manage a national digital ID for health care and housing." Boingboing, November 17, 2019.

Bianca Wylie, "Stale cities: Why Waterfront Toronto is the perfect partner for Sidewalk Labs." Medium, November 17, 2019.


Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.