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Google smart city project moves forward and could get formal approval by March 2020

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Waterfront Toronto, a group created by the Canadian government to revitalize the waterfront area in the city, has agreed to move forward with a controversial proposal from Sidewalk Labs, an urban development organization that’s owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet, to build a smart city on Toronto’s waterfront called Quayside.

The project was announced two years ago and civil liberty groups have tried to stop it moving forward by suing the Canadian government on the grounds that it represents a major threat to citizens’ privacy.

The proposal will now enter a five-month consultation period over the project’s privacy implications, innovations, and business model. If formally approved at the end of the consultation period, Sidewalk Labs would get the go-ahead to build the 12-acre Quayside smart city on Lake Ontario in March 2020.

According to the current proposal, Waterfront Toronto will be responsible for proposing the data-collection and storage strategies for the smart city and are likely to recommend that this is handled by one of Canada’s government bodies.

Canadian entities will also get expanded rights to intellectual property (IP) created in the smart city and a cut of revenue from technology that is piloted in the smart city by Sidewalk Labs.

A leaked document published earlier this week revealed that prior to entering into negotiations with Waterfront Toronto, Sidewalk Labs’ early vision for Quayside involved using citizens’ data to create an “accountability system based on personal identity” which would reward people for good behavior – a proposal similar to China’s existing social credit system.

The completed smart city project is expected to be filled with sensors that mass-collect data on traffic, noise, air quality, the performance of the electric grid, and waste collection. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) has argued that the project will lead to “historically unprecedented, non-consensual, inappropriate mass-capture surveillance and commoditization of personal data of individuals who work live in, work in or visit Quayside.”

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