June 24, 2019 / 7:27 PM / a month ago

Alphabet commits to data privacy in Toronto smart city master plan

TORONTO (Reuters) - A high-tech smart city project proposed along Toronto’s waterfront by Alphabet Inc unit Sidewalk Labs has pledged not to sell advertisers the personal data collected to serve residents and visitors, as part of a 1,500-page master plan released on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: A "No Trespassing" sign is seen in the Port Lands, where Alphabet Inc, the owner of Google, is expected to develop an area of Toronto's waterfront after they announced the project "Sidewalk Toronto", using new technologies to develop high-tech urban areas in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Mark Blinch/File Photo

The proposal in Canada’s biggest city is designed to provide affordable housing, alleviate traffic and fight climate change and inequality. But privacy advocates have expressed concerns.

The C$3.9 billion development proposes features such as a thermal grid to lower power use, traffic signals that use data to prioritize pedestrians who need more time to cross roads and a self-financing light rail transit that connects the Greater Toronto Area to the waterfront, among other features.

Privacy activists have insisted that Sidewalk Labs must guarantee that personal data used to run the project remains anonymous.

CEO Dan Doctoroff said at a press conference on Monday that Sidewalk Labs will not disclose personal information to third parties without explicit consent and will not sell personal information.

Sidewalk’s proposed development encompasses 12 acres of land called the Quayside, and the River District, a 153-acre area that Sidewalk Labs plans tor develop.

Sidewalk Labs said in a statement it plans a C$900 million ($682.54 million) equity investment to support the C$3.9 billion project for “real estate and advanced systems” in Quayside and Villiers West.

The proposal says Sidewalk Toronto will add C$14.2 billion annually to Canada’s GDP, C$4.3 billion in tax revenue, and create 44,000 permanent jobs by 2040.

Waterfront Toronto said it will open the plan for public consultation on July 15. Sidewalk Labs said the decision and voting will take place in the fall and winter of 2019/2020, and construction can begin on the Quayside before 2022, if the project receives sufficient public support.

The smart city project sparked controversy with concerns over sensors, which critics say will lead to excessive surveillance and unethical data collection.

The master plan is separated into three volumes, which cover the development plan with estimated economic impacts, proposed innovations for fields like mobility and sustainability, and a commercial proposal for governance and implementation.

A letter from Steve Diamond, chairman of Waterfront Toronto, outlined the group’s concerns over the plan. Those include Sidewalk Labs’ proposal of an “IDEA District” spanning 159 acres, worries over data privacy and use and how the proposals require future commitments from governments which Waterfront Toronto cannot make.

Reporting by Tyler Choi; Editing by David Gregorio

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