Digital smart city is a happy future or anti utopia.
The most ambitious “smart city”, known as Quayside, faced fierce public criticism when the plan to create the city of the future was first announced. Quayside is a collaborative project between Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Google, designed to transform Toronto waterfront.
In accordance with the utopian theory that fuels the development of such digital infrastructure, Sidewalk Labs introduced Quayside as a solution to many modern problems: from traffic jams and rising housing prices to environmental pollution. Digital smart city also includes a centralized identity management system – in the vision document this is called “ubiquitous reading”, through which not only every house will be observed, but every wall in this house. Other, relatively bizarre plans include unmanned vehicles, reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and sensors waste separation.
From the beginning, activists, technology researchers, and some government officials were skeptical about the idea of Google or one of its subsidiaries working on a city project. Their suspicions about turning part of Toronto into a corporate testing ground were primarily caused by the history of the company unethical corporate practices and its secret data collection.
A few weeks ago Ann Cavoukian, one of the leading experts in the area of privacy of Canada and a former commissioner for privacy in Ontario, abandoned the project where she worked as a consultant. At first she said that all the data collected from the residents will be removed and will not be identified. However, last month, Cavoukian learned that third parties will be able to access identifiable information collected in Quayside. “I thought we create “Smart privacy city”, not the “Smart surveillance city”, Cavoukian commented later. Her concern had also affected residents, who had long pointed to obvious privacy concerns.
What is the future of digital smart city?
Now, trying to get ahead of Quayside development before it’s too late, a coalition of experts and residents has launched Toronto Open Smart Cities forum. The forum was created for the purpose of public talks, trainings and debates, which were to be “held last year, when this project was first announced”.
Most likely, Quayside will achieve all these goals and become a precedent for future similar projects. However, Sidewalk Labs will have to rethink not only the laws of motion and operation of sensors, but also a set of data and privacy rules. That is the most difficult part of the project so far.