Data privacy a concern for Torontonians at Sidewalk Toronto public meeting

Published On March 26, 2018 | By ajeffrey | News, Sci/Tech

Toronto is facing major developments with the plans to create Quayside, a new smart neighbourhood on the city’s waterfront (Supplied via Creative Commons – Pixabay)

Andrew Jeffrey

Digital privacy was a major concern of people at a public consultation hosted by Sidewalk Toronto about the planned development of Quayside, a new digitally smart neighbourhood.

The neighbourhood, which would be a a 12-acre, high-tech mixed-use district in the Port Lands at Queens Quay and Parliament Street, is a collaboration between the New York-based tech company Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto.

A large sum of data about Quayside’s residents will be collected with sensors that will be set up in this neighbourhood.

Concern was voiced during two March 20 meetings at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre about where the data collected in this project would be housed.

In response, Sidewalk Labs pledged the data they collect won’t be sold or used for advertising purposes, but rather would be used to improve the neighbourhood’s quality of life.

“We respect privacy, and this is at its core, based on the idea that it is the people that matter,” said Rohit Aggarwala, Sidewalk Labs’ chief policy officer, at the public meeting.

“Not the business models, not the optimization of a given urban system, what matters in a city is whether people feel comfortable, whether people feel respected, whether people feel a sense of ownership in that place,” Aggarwala said.

“And they can’t do that if they feel they are being monitored for the wrong reasons, or in fact for almost any reason,” Aggarwala said.

Quayside will act as a pilot project for tech ideas within urban development that could be implemented in other regions across Toronto. Plans for the neighbourhood include designing roads for self-driving cars, along with more environmentally friendly and sustainable urban design.

Mark Fox, a University of Toronto professor of Urban Systems Engineering, cautioned that Torontonians have to think about whether the data extracted in Quayside after this neighbourhood’s development will be any more than the data people already leave informally while using digital media, and how secure that data will be upon its collection.

“The big concern, really, is how secure is the data that’s acquired?” Fox asked.

“From a legal perspective, there should be a constraint on what can be done with any of the data that can be acquired about you within the Quayside area. And that’s separate from how good is security on the data so that no one can come in and actually steal it. Because we live in a world where there’s data breaches all the time,” Fox said.

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