Smart cities are still a ways off. However, for them to work as best they can, we need them to be built and tested. Alphabet (parent company of Google, Nest, etc.) is aware of this, and uses its smart city focused division, Sidewalk Labs, to do so. However, Sidewalk Labs is facing some serious privacy issues regarding its newest ideas, as reported by Engadget.
A Change In Leadership
Recently, the team has just let go of its lead privacy expert, Ann Cavoukian, over serious data privacy issues. The violations involve one of Sidewalk’s test smart neighborhoods, Quayside, in Toronto. Essentially, Cavoukian is against the current handling which enables Sidewalk to retrieve non-anonymous data.
Cavoukian was once the information and privacy commissioner for Ontario and reveals that she ”had a really hard time with that. I just couldn’t… I couldn’t live with that.”
Her departure is only one of many different suspicions regarding Quayside and its handling of information. Interestingly, these negative notions are despite Sidewalk Labs’ claim to follow Cavoukian’s “privacy by design” structure from the 1990s. Her plan means to balance out citizen’s privacy rights with the information needed for smart spaces.
Google’s team is struggling to realize the framework, however. The group consistently meets with tech and civil experts such as Cavoukian and does their best to implement everyone’s desires into their “Master Innovation and Development Plan” meant for early 2019. Essentially, this plan will be the final pitch to Toronto before they decide to allow construction.
It makes sense that privacy is in high consideration. Some aren’t ready for the smart implementation as Google is generally an advertisement support platform. That, and Sidewalk Labs has been incredibly tight-lipped on its decisions. However, that lack of disclosure is partly since no arrangements are final yet.
Foundations Are Coming
While Sidewalk Labs has made slight progress in the privacy sector, it doesn’t want that to be their primary focus. Instead, the group plans to establish a third-party “trust” that would handle neighborhood data. Thanks to the trust, nobody would be able to develop data-tracking methods without approval. Applications would go under a Responsible Data Impact Assessment (RDIA) form. Some of these would be verified instantly, while others would take some time for the group to process.
Sidewalk Labs states that all applications would have to follow Cavoukian’s framework. That said, the trust would be able to verify pitches that don’t anonymize data. For example, one proposed idea involves security cameras in parks. The plan would require great consideration as it needs personal information to work.
That said, creators can implement loopholes into their plans. Should they say this footage is only for park improvements, it would be much more likely to get a yes.
A War On Privacy
Those loopholes are what caused Cavoukian to leave. She believes citizen privacy is of the utmost concern:
“The minute you say, ‘well it’s going to be their choice,’ you can bet more and more data will be collected in personally identifiable form. Because that’s the treasure trove. That’s what everybody wants.”
Sidewalk Labs is opposite this. While they plan to implement Cavoukian’s ideas, the group doesn’t think it should be in charge of data management and policies. They argue that a third-party trust would make a better choice every time.
The company released a statement that echoed this sentiment:
“At last week’s meeting of the Waterfront Toronto’s Digital Strategy Advisory Panel, it became clear that Sidewalk Labs would play a more limited role in near-term discussions about a data governance framework at Quayside. Sidewalk Labs has committed to implement, as a company, the principles of privacy by design. Though that question is settled, the question of whether other companies involved in the Quayside project would be required to do so is unlikely to be worked out soon, and may be out of Sidewalk Labs’ hands.”