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Gender: Female
Hometown: Seattle, WA
Member since: Mon Dec 13, 2004, 02:55 AM
Number of posts: 12,232

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New twist on corporate towns. Quayside Toronto, built by Google.

Google is now expanding its data driven operation into building a part of a city based on how its executives think a city should be designed and managed.

The part that makes me a bit queasy is that Google has so far succeeded by using people as its product. People aren’t its customers so much as they are providers of data, which is extensively gathered, packaged then sold to other companies. This is very different than the civic relationship of people with their government. How does this translate to real people who are living or working in or even just passing through a physical place?

Note: I have been watching the new season of Black Mirror so my views on this endeavor is tinged by thoughts of how technology employed by private companies to benefit them can sometimes run amok. I think there is a solid role for embracing new technology in development and in improving lives and systems. I’ m just skeptical that this is the way to proceed. It has too many echoes of the old “company town” to it, with the new dimension of everything you do being tracked and analyzed.

First, here’s a statement from Eric Schmidt on Alphabet/Google/Sidewalk Labs being selected for this venture:


Alphabet executive chairman Eric Schmidt said on Tuesday the genesis of the thinking for Sidewalk Labs came from Google's founders getting excited thinking of "all the things you could do if someone would just give us a city and put us in charge," although he joked he knew there were good reasons that doesn't happen. He then related his reaction when the company discovered it had won the bid for the development of its city-as-a-platform model: "Oh my God! We've been selected. Now, it's our turn."

And here Is some info from a NYT article about it:


Quayside, as the project is known, will be laden with sensors and cameras tracking everyone who lives, works or merely passes through the area. In what Sidewalk calls a marriage of technology and urbanism, the resulting mass of data will be used to further shape and refine the new city. Lifting a term from its online sibling, the company calls the Toronto project “a platform.”

But extending the surveillance powers of one of the world’s largest technology companies from the virtual world to the real one raises privacy concerns for many residents. Others caution that, when it comes to cities, data-driven decision-making can be misguided and undemocratic.

Nothing is too prosaic to analyze: Toilets and sinks will report their water use; the garbage robots will report on trash collection. Residents and workers in the area will rely on Sidewalk-developed software to gain access to public services; the data gathered from everything will influence long-term planning and development.

While surveillance cameras and other sensors are fixtures in many cities, Pamela Robinson, an associate professor at the school of urban planning at Ryerson University in Toronto, said Quayside’s data would differ in its extent and its collection method — by a private company rather than by government agencies. Plans for who will own that data and who will be able to access it have not been announced.

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