exit joins the mounting skepticism over Sidewalk Labs and
the urban data that will be harvested through Quayside,
the first section of a planned smart district called
Sidewalk Toronto. Sidewalk Labs has always maintained that
the neighborhood will follow 'privacy
by design', a framework by Cavoukian that was first
published in the mid-1990s. The approach ensures that
privacy is considered at every part of the design process,
balancing the rights of citizens with the access required
to create smarter, more efficient and environmentally
friendly living spaces.
Labs has been debating how to adopt the framework since it
was selected as a Quayside planning partner last
year. The team has held countless
meetings with the public and
technology experts, including Cavoukian, to explain its
thinking and ensure everyone's concerns are considered in
the Master Innovation and Development Plan due early next
year. (The plan is effectively a final pitch or proposal
that will need to be approved by the City of Toronto
before any building work can go ahead.)
of course, has been a constant source of discussion. Some
Torontonians are nervous because of Google's reputation as
an advertising business and the vague information Sidewalk
has given about data collection so far. Sidewalk Labs,
though, can't be specific because it hasn't finalized
anything -- it's still researching and considering its
progress is being made. Sidewalk Labs published
some initial proposals for data
governance in Quayside last week. The bottom line: It
wants someone else to handle the issue. The company
suggested an independent trust that would oversee all data
collection in the neighborhood. If any company, including
Sidewalk Labs, wanted to set up citizen-tracking hardware
or services, they would need to file an application,
called a Responsible Data Impact Assessment (RDIA), with
the trust first. Some applications could be
"self-certified," or quickly approved, while others would
require careful consideration by the group.
sounds great, right?
believes all Quayside data should be de-identified at
Labs says all of its applications would follow Cavoukian's
privacy by design framework. But here's the rub -- the
trust would also have the power to approve applications
that don't anonymize data at source. In its proposal
document, the Alphabet-owned team gives a
theoretical example involving video cameras in public
parks. The application, Sidewalk Labs says, couldn't be
self-certified because it involves personal information.
It could be approved, however, on the condition that the
video footage is only used for park improvement, and that
the files are destroyed on a rolling seven-day basis. The
company in question would also need to erect signs near
the cameras and add their locations to a public registry.
wiggle room concerns Cavoukian. She believes all Quayside
data should be de-identified at source to maintain citizen
privacy. "The minute you say, 'well it's going to be their
choice,' you can bet more and more data will be collected
in personally identifiable form," she said. "Because
that's the treasure trove. That's what everybody wants."
heard about the decision at a Waterfront Toronto Digital
Strategy Advisory Panel meeting last week. "[Sidewalk
Labs] told this group in no uncertain terms that the
proposed Civic Data Trust would have broad authority,
including decisions relating to the de-identification of
personal data," Cavoukian wrote in her resignation letter.
"[Sidewalk Labs] indicated this group would be
'encouraged' to de-identify personally identifiable data,
but that the decision would be theirs to make."
Labs takes a different view. The organization is committed
to privacy and will follow Cavoukian's framework. It
doesn't, however, think it should be responsible for
setting policy in Quayside. An independent trust, the team
argues, would be better equipped to make these decisions
-- even if they allow other companies to collect
personally identifiable data.
a statement, the company said: "At last week's meeting of
the Waterfront Toronto's Digital Strategy Advisory Panel,
it became clear that Sidewalk Labs would play a more
limited role in near-term discussions about a data
governance framework at Quayside. Sidewalk Labs has
committed to implement, as a company, the principles of
privacy by design. Though that question is settled, the
question of whether other companies involved in the
Quayside project would be required to do so is unlikely to
be worked out soon, and may be out of Sidewalk Labs'
debate, then, is whether Sidewalk should force the trust
-- and, by extension, every company in Quayside -- to
de-identify data at source.
her letter, Cavoukian said: "Just think of the
consequences: If personally identifiable data is not
de-identified at source, we will be creating another
central database of personal information (controlled by
whom?), that may be used without data subjects' consent,
that will be exposed to the risks of hacking and
unauthorized access. As we all know, existing methods of
encryption are not infallible and may be broken,
potentially exposing the personal data of Waterfront
Toronto residents. Why take such risks?"
is now pressuring Waterfront Toronto, the government
entity that hired Sidewalk Labs, to change the company's
mind and enforce de-identification at source. "You have to
lay down the law," she told the group.
isn't the first privacy expert to abandon the Quayside
isn't the first privacy expert to abandon the Quayside
project. Saadia Muzaffar, founder of TechGirls Canada,
left the Digital Strategy Advisory Panel earlier
this month. In a resignation letter, she said
Waterfront Toronto had shown "apathy and [an] utter lack
of leadership regarding shaky public trust and social
license." The advisory panel was attended "in good faith,"
she said, but showed "a blatant disregard for resident
concerns about data."
disagreements will add to the concerns of Torontonians.
Sidewalk Labs still has time to address these issues and
create a master plan that will be accepted by everyone. If
the company continues to lose public trust, though,
there's a good chance residents and government officials
will make up their minds and reject the plan before
reading the first page.