Privacy Expert Resigns From Alphabet-Backed Smart City Project Over Surveillance Concerns

Privacy Expert Resigns From Alphabet-Backed Smart City Project Over Surveillance Concerns

A privacy expert tasked with helping a new smart city development protect the data privacy of residents has resigned over concerns that her guidelines would be largely ignored.

“I imagined us creating a Smart City of Privacy, as opposed to a Smart City of Surveillance,” Ann Cavoukian, the former privacy commissioner of Ontario, wrote in her resignation letter from Google sister company Sidewalk Labs, reports Global News.

A year ago, Waterfront Toronto enlisted Alphabet-backed Sidewalk Labs to create a plan for a smart city neighborhood in the city’s Quayside development. As a consultant for the endeavor, Cavoukian developed a plan called Privacy by Design that was meant to ensure that citizens’ personal data would be protected.

But the project has faced skepticism and criticism from the start. In an op-ed published earlier this month, former BlackBerry CEO Jim Balsillie referred to the development as “a colonizing experiment in surveillance capitalism attempting to bulldoze important urban, civic and political issues.”

Cavoukian told the Global News that her resignation was intended as a “strong statement” on the project’s approach to data privacy. “I felt I had no choice because I had been told by Sidewalk Labs that all of the data collected will be de-identified at source,” she told Global News. But then, at a Thursday meeting, Cavoukian reportedly realized such anonymization protocols could not be guaranteed. She told the Candian news outlet that Sidewalk Labs revealed at that meeting that their organization could commit to her guidelines, but other involved groups would not be required to abide by them.

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