Briefing

Several Big Tech critics urge City of Toronto to abandon Sidewalk Labs smart-city project

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“They hope to displace democracy,” wrote Roger McNamee, an early investor in Apple, Facebook and Google, in a letter addressed to the City of Toronto’s executive committee. McNamee has been an outspoken critic of the project. On Tuesday, Ellen P. Goodman, a professor at New Jersey’s Rutgers Law School who specializes in information law, privacy and data ethics, wrote an op-ed in The Globe and Mail calling Sidewalk Labs “an example of a project so massive that it’s impossible to look at every single piece.” And, Waterloo-based author Tom Slee wrote to the city’s Executive Committee calling for a halt to the project. In turn, David Fraser, lawyer and adviser to Sidewalk Labs, shared his letter to the committee in support of the project, writing, “There is a strong disconnect between reality and what is being depicted in the commentary around the project.” Sidewalk Labs said McNamee’s letter represents a “fundamental misunderstanding” of the company’s approach. (The Logic)

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Talking point: The critical rhetoric comes ahead of the release of the Master Innovation and Development Plan that Sidewalk Labs is expected to present to Waterfront Toronto by June 21, the last day of spring. Explaining the reason for his letter, McNamee said in a statement to The Logic, “In Ottawa last week I met many people who shared my concerns about the Sidewalk Labs project in Toronto. Each person noted that the decision would be made in Toronto and that my voice might be welcome.” McNamee called Sidewalk Labs an “extreme form of behaviour manipulation that we should fight” in an April interview with The Logic’s editor-in-chief David Skok. “The concerns expressed recently are similar to those we have heard from local community groups,” said Andrew Tumilty, spokesperson for Waterfront Toronto. “We have spoken with hundreds of people across the city so far, and look forward to hearing further input from local residents during the evaluation phase of this project.” Don Peat, executive communications director for the mayor, told The Logic that Toronto Mayor John Tory is looking forward to tomorrow’s Executive Committee meeting on the Quayside project. “Mayor Tory has been clear that any final proposal from Sidewalk Labs will be given full public scrutiny, subject to public consultation and discussion, and, ultimately, consideration by Waterfront Toronto and City Council—that process will include a focus on protecting privacy and the democratic process,” said Peat.