Sorting the spin from the facts: how big can the surveilling city that Sidewalk Labs plans for Toronto get?

#1

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/12/21/2600-acres.html

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#2

As I said in the other topic, this Waterfront Toronto organisation seems more concerned with the needs of Sidewalk Labs than it is with the people who live in, work in, and pass through its larger bailiwick.

It really sounds like oversight for this project has to be put in the hands of the city council where there’s a little more accountability, although from what I read they’ve dropped the ball on this project.

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#3

A wretched hive of scum and villainy.

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#4

Hi gracchus,

Toronto’s city council definitely should not be put in charge! They’re led by Mayor John Tory, who is a total free-enterpriser and big booster of this disasterous plan.

This project needs to be stopped, full stop.

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#5

Called it.

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#6

While we don’t believe it’s fair to suggest that Sidewalk Labs is preparing to remake the entire designated waterfront area, my correction email was too simplistic and in error.

The MIDP is focused on Quayside, but we have said many times that it would discuss the application of ideas across broader geographic areas. Consistent with the January 2018 City staff report, the project is exploring “opportunities to implement new technologies and innovations at scale…particularly for infrastructure that must be implemented at a district-level scale in order to be viable.” Of course, no such broader application could or would happen without government approvals—these would all simply be proposals.

#7

Rosemary Frei, nice work! Please keep it up.

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#8

First, thanks for participating in the discussion. Regarding this:

That’s pretty broad and vague. Can you communicate to us specific examples or categories of infrastructure elements that would only be viable when implemented at scale throughout Waterfront Toronto’s district (as opposed to just in Quayside)?

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#9

Sure. As was laid out in our plan development agreement with Waterfront Toronto, while our first focus is Quayside (the small shaded area in the map), there may be ideas that would have application to a larger area for the city. One example is a shared network of driverless cars that can makes streets safer and lower transportation costs, among other benefits. We think the potential there is exciting, but not something you would need or try to implement at Quayside alone, which you can easily walk or bike across. Another is a proposal for a district energy system, which could help harvest renewable energy and deploy it when needed to decrease reliance on fossil fuels. This system may be useful for other communities near Quayside as well. But of course all of this will be up to the government and people of Toronto to decide on before any of this is implemented.

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#10

Will those autonomous vehicles also be platforms that extend the Quayside surveillance and sensor network into the larger Toronto Waterfront area? If so, will Waterfront Toronto commit on its own and in advance as a matter policy to insist on the following to Sidewalk Labs (“SL”) regarding the area in Waterfront Toronto’s (“WF”) bailiwick outside Quayside:

  1. SL must, subject to audit by government, follow best practises concerning data anonymisation and retention. Further, SL must first demonstrate, to the satisfaction of the city and province’s privacy commissioners, a general adherence to those practises within Quayside before taking any sensors into the larger district.

  2. SL must share all data gathered in such a manner, royalty-free, with the city and provincial government that is providing the company with a testbed.

  3. SL must never associate data collected by vehicle-mounted sensors with the activities of personally identifiable individuals, be they passengers or passersby in the district, unless an individual explicitly and voluntarily opts-in (this would include a ban on facial recognition cameras and voice-recognition microphones as well as sensors that capture mobile phone numbers, IMEIs, MAC addresses, and other device identifiers).

  4. The initiative will not be implemented without a vote from the city council and a prior review from the city and provincial privacy commissioner.

  5. The SL autonomous car service will not be prioritised in terms of right-of-way and funding over existing mass transit options, which demonstrably carry more passengers through a downtown urban area with less congestion than individual vehicles.

Same questions (1-4) go for the district energy system and its sensors.

If Waterfront Toronto makes its positions in this regard clear, and communicates its opposition to Eric Schmidt’s vision of Alphabet being given “a city and put us in charge” and SL’s desires for full autonomy from city regulations it will likely reduce a lot of anxiety on the part of the public.

As a technologist with an interest in urbanism, I’ve been following this story closely. What happens in Toronto will have effects far beyond this one city. Thus far, the clarity and transparency and tone of communications from both SL and WT still leaves a lot to be desired (I also say this as a former journalist).

#11

Thanks abutilon!

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#12

Those are great questions gracchus! I look forward to Molly’s answers to them.

It’s pretty hard to believe Molly when she says “there may be ideas that would have application to a larger area for the city.” It’s not “may” – the intention is to do it. There’s so much evidence of that:

  • the Privy Council Office document I cite in my BoingBoing article;
  • Sidewalk Labs has been very active over the last year, not only in developing eye-catching drawings of buildings used in public consultations about Quayside, but in lobbying all three levels of government. The company already has subsidiaries such as CityblockHealth Inc (https://www.cityblock.com/). that reshapes healthcare and Coord (https://coord.co/company) (formerly Flow) that is “driving innovation and collaboration by building a shared data layer that enables mobility services to interoperate seamlessly with city infrastructure.”
  • the subsidiaries’ lobbyists have met many times with federal officials. Also, as The Logic journalist Amanda Roth has reported(https://thelogic.co/news/exclusive/three-affiliated-companies-registered-to-lobby-the-city-of-toronto-after-sidewalk-labs-won-quayside-bid/?gift=1a39b770b471172fd342500dbfd19c49), the lobbyists have met more than 18 times with recently re-elected Toronto Mayor John Tory and Tory has visited Sidewalk Labs’ headquarters in New York City.
  • a search by of provincial lobbying records reveals that 41 lobbyists with Sidewalk Labs Employees, L.L.C. have been meeting over many months with ministers’ office and Metrolinx to discuss “potential collaboration between Sidewalk Labs and the provincial government in the areas of transportation, affordable housing, renewable energy, waste management, technology services and community/ health services. These communications will also involve discussions about privacy-related matters.

Why aren’t you or others who speak for SWL and WFTO talking about this, Molly?

And there’s lots more going on. Here’s my Rabble article that Cory used as the basis for his Dec. 17 blog posting: http://rabble.ca/news/2018/12/plan-re-imagine-toronto’s-waterfront-how-much-does-public-know-about-it

Check out the, for example, this paragraph in my Rabble.ca article:
Moreover, a lawyer working under Bernier at Dentons, Karl Schober (https://www.dentons.com/en/karl-schober), during a panel discussion at a large public-private conference in Toronto in November – that included talk of how public transit could be taken over by the private sector via the use of autonomous vehicles – said (https://vimeo.com/302965466) companies can make money from the huge amount of data from people using these vehicles. Another speaker at the conference showed how (https://vimeo.com/299352414) use of autonomous vehicles for transportation can be used to privatize roads and all other infrastructure associated with transportation. Sidewalk Labs’ plans for transportation on the Toronto waterfront focuses largely on autonomous vehicles.

There are also the very important points made in this must-read article: https://medium.com/@marcdepape/a-vision-for-sidewalk-toronto-2a425b56c967

And this other must-read article, by Mariana Valverde and Alexandra Flynn from the University of Toronto: https://cfe.ryerson.ca/blog/2018/12/mystery-waterfront-how-smart-city-allure-led-major-public-agency-toronto-reckless-deal

And yet another article, this one by Valverde alone: https://cfe.ryerson.ca/blog/2018/12/public-lands-private-control-and-housing-needs-smart-city-quayside-development

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#13

We have proposed an independent Civic Data Trust that would set the rules around data collection in public space. You can learn more about it here: https://medium.com/sidewalk-talk/an-update-on-data-governance-for-sidewalk-toronto-d810245f10f7

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#14

You responded to nothing of what I said Molly.

By the way - all the lobbying that I and Valverde and Flynn mention is for Quayside and the Port Lands. Anyone can check it out for themselves by doing searches on the City of Toronto Lobbyist Registry (http://app.toronto.ca/lobbyistsearch/disclaimer.do), the Province of Ontario’s lobbyist registry (http://lobbyist.oico.on.ca/Pages/Public/PublicSearch/Default.aspx) and the Canadian federal lobbyist registry (https://lobbycanada.gc.ca/eic/site/012.nsf/eng/00035.html).

Here, for example, is what it says in the first record that comes up in a search for 'Sidewalk Labs" in the Toronto Lobbyist Registry for Jan.-Dec. 2018 (unfortunately the registry doesn’t provide a unique URL for each search result so I can’t provide it here). It’s ‘Subject Matter Registration No. SM25770’ and shows 25 lobbyists for Sidewalk Labs: “Communicating about proposed community services, seniors services, technology services and health services for the Port Lands and for Quayside on Toronto’s Eastern Waterfront.”

And this is just one of 28 results that come up from just the search of the Toronto Lobbyist Registry.

When one does a search of the provincial lobbyist registry, one finds 10 pages of results, totalling 51 records. Each of the records shows a list of 41 lobbyists doing the following on behalf of “Sidewalk Labs Employees Inc.” in contacts with the offices of the premier and cabinet, and other ministries and MPPs and provincial agencies since November 2017: “Communicating with government officials about the development of a new mixed-use community on Toronto’s Eastern Waterfront called Quayside and about the future revitalization of the Port Lands on Toronto’s Eastern Waterfront. These communications will involve discussions about potential collaboration between Sidewalk Labs and the provincial government in the areas of transportation, affordable housing, renewable energy, waste management, technology services and community/ health services. These communications will also involve discussions about privacy-related matters.”

Specifically the records have all been amended on Dec. 16, 2018, to state that now the lobbyists are “Communicating with government officials about regulations related to the testing and piloting of autonomous vehicles.”

A search of the federal lobbyist registry reveals 70 lobbying records by Sidewalk, dating back to Oct. 2017, with fully 27 communication reports just in the last six months. The most recent communication report (https://lobbycanada.gc.ca/app/secure/ocl/lrs/do/vwRg?cno=361287&regId=885122) lists 24 lobbyists, and shows that they’ve been lobbying 15 government bodies including the Prime Minister’s Office, the Privy Council Office, the House of Commons, Finance Canada and Infrastructure Canada, in both written and oral communications. The record states it is for the purpose of “Communicating with government officials about the development of a new mixed-use community on Toronto’s Eastern Waterfront called Quayside and about the future revitalization of the Port Lands on Toronto’s Eastern Waterfront. These communications will involve discussions about potential collaboration between Sidewalk Labs and the federal government in the areas of transportation, infrastructure and renewable energy.”

Interesting Molly that you don’t mention any of this, nor do Sidewalk Labs, Sidewalk Toronto or Waterfront Toronto. Why not?

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#16

Thanks. I’ll take a look later this week. Happy holidays to both you and @Rosemary_Frei.

closed #17

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