Toronto approves Google's surveillance city, despite leaks revealing Orwellian plans

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This seems like an acceptable outcome, with Waterfront Toronto finally realising that Sidewalk needs the city’s approval more than vice-versa. I have no problem with innovative urbanism and attempts to go carbon-neutral, but not at the price of sacrificing liberal-democratic norms and the privacy of people who didn’t opt in.

If Google wants to build their experimental corporate surveillance state on a few hectares populated by volunteer human guinea pigs, fine. But, based on Sidewalk’s past behaviour, the city will obviously have to keep a close on the project lest it start leaking into adjoining parts of downtown Toronto via their vehicles, payment systems, and wireless and wired tendrils.


I’m still puzzled by how autonomous it would be and how much the Canadian government would back the private city decisions.
If there are corporate cops and judges, will the government still work as the final guarantor of order and safety, or it would let google to deal with a violent actor?

I find the idea of a private city awful, as it is with HOA, but I’m not sure if it can be as terrible as we imagine.
Specially by being the first one of the kind, I think they will proceed with care to avoid having the whole idea demonized because they tried something stupid to get some small amount of money.


My threat that “I’m moving to Canada!” when things get bad in the US is seeming like less and less of an option.


I love Canada, and did emigrate from the US when things got bad… BUT it’s worth reminding everyone that we’re no utopia. Too often Canada is used as a foil to criticize the (bad) policies in the States, but when you start comparing Canada to many other countries in a whole host of ways we fall quite short.


Why does this make me want to wander around Quayside dressed like Jeffrey Labowski, without any electronics what-so-ever.

It’s a private city, but should still be subject to the same laws under provincial and federal statutes.

Those judges won’t be able to preside over criminal trials. If they violate provincial laws, it’ll be the province in charge, not Google’s people. They can have Google cops, but anything criminal would go through the standard criminal courts. But the judges would (or better be) limited strictly to municipal bylaw enforcement. More “You left your recycling bins out on the wrong day” than “you murdered your neighbor.”

The risks I see are easy police access to all surveillance (say if OPP is investigating a crime) and a future where cities adopt these systems to “affordable housing neighbourhoods, brought to you by Google and Palantir” and it’s not rich people with a choice who end up living in them.

As much as I love the city I live in now, given their current approach to the homeless, they’d leap at such a chance.


A panopticon in Toronto the only way to track down Rob Ford.

I think I’d want to carry some very certain electronics.

My notes:

eta: explanation: when phones are announcing that they’re looking for open wifi access points, they’re supposed use a pseudo-random MAC address which isn’t trackable to the phone’s actual MAC address identity. That’s been buggy as hell for ages. (Probably quite a number of BB posts about that.)

A chaff box would listen to those leaky phones, and then spread disinformation to all the watching systems.

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How can they call themselves a corporate city if there’s no RoboCop?

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