Sidewalk Labs talks urban digital privacy

There’s been a great deal of buzz around a deal by the City of Toronto’s waterfront development agency and a Google-backed firm called Sidewalk Labs.

The project has the potential to revolutionize urban living in the 21st century, but it is not without risks.

Under the deal, Sidewalk labs will develop pieces of Toronto’s waterfront into a modern, vibrant urban community, complete with current as well as next-generation technology and amenities.

Privacy and security experts have been asking hard questions of the city and Sidewalk labs around the collection, processing, storage and use of data generated from this experiment, with critics of the proposal raising concerns about who gets to own the data.

In response, Sidewalk labs has published a draft report outlining its proposed approach to privacy and making an offer to create an independent public trust to control all data generated from public urban spaces, to the benefit of any and all who are interested.

Beauceron CEO spoke with Global Radio Toronto about the Sidewalk Labs experiment and its privacy proposal.

Privacy by Design

One positive development in the report is a clear commitment to the principles of Privacy By Design (PbD), a standard developed by former Ontario privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian that aims to limit data collection to only what is required and to be transparent with users about what and why information is collected, who it will (or will not) be shared with, how it will be protected and more.

End-to-end security

In addition to talking about privacy and de-personalization of data, the report also talks about the importance of proactively designing data collection infrastructure with security in mind. In many cases, security is an after thought at best, often bolted on after the fact which presents problems for end users or for the integrity of the security solution. Building security into the design reduces negative effects and maximizes protection.

The devil in the details

While Sidewalk’s report could set a new standard for smart communities, particularly by going beyond current data protection regulations and embracing best practices, the report is only a draft and still subject to change, which could see promising commitments watered down. Should Sidewalk maintain the draft in its current form, or even strengthen it, its Toronto project could become a standard for other communities around the world to embrace.