#BlockSidewalk's War Against Google In Canada - The Nation

#BlockSidewalk's War Against Google In Canada  The NationThe tech company wants to rebuild a Toronto neighborhood—but residents aren't having it.

#BlockSidewalk's War Against Google In Canada - The Nation

In October 2017, Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, announced a partnership with the government agency Waterfront Toronto to map out a data-driven “smart city” on a parcel of land on Toronto’s derelict eastern waterfront, including 3.3 million square feet of residential and commercial space and a new headquarters for Google Canada.

Last week, 150 residents packed a community center in the city’s formerly industrial, rapidly gentrifying east end, vowing to block the deal from going forward. “We have a consent problem,” said Bianca Wylie, a lead organizer of the #BlockSidewalk campaign. “There needs to be the option to say no.”

As the bi- tech companies attempt to , campaigns like #BlockSidewalk in Toronto, and the activists who to build a second headquarters in New York City, are cobbling together a playbook for how to oppose these firms’ expansionist goals.

#BlockSidewalk’s first public meeting was part of a wave of resistance that has been building for the past year. The day before the meeting, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association against all three levels of government. At a press conference, CCLA executive director Michael Bryant called for a complete shutdown of the Sidewalk deal, saying the agreement between Google and Waterfront Toronto violated Canadians’ constitutional rights, and accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of being “seduced” by Google’s “honeypot.” “The laboratory of Sidewalk Labs, you see, is your community,” Bryant said. “Scientists profit from your behavioral data. Canada, Toronto, you are the lab rats.”

Initially, Sidewalk Labs promised to build an entire neighborhood “from the internet up.” Quayside, a 12-acre section of Toronto’s neglected but potentially valuable waterfront land, would be a testing ground for large-scale, high-tech infrastructure that has the potential to transform the very meaning of a city: Robots would deliver packages through underground tunnels. Buildings would adapt to the weather. Heated sidewalks would melt snow. Sensors would track everything from the number of available parking spaces to the times of day when people are most likely to sit on a park bench. The data gathered would be used to “optimize” city living and improve quality of life.

Sidewalk Labs has been toying with the idea of building a “digital district” for years. The company is the main investor in LinkNYC, the public Wi-Fi–enabled kiosks that have replaced most of New York City’s pay phones. At the official unveiling in 2016, Mayor Bill de Blasio touted the service as “the biggest and fastest network in the world—and completely free of charge.” But, as Nick Pinto , all that “free” Wi-Fi comes with a cost, as Google monetizes the kiosks by collecting data from anyone who uses them, a practice that has troubling implications for citizens’ right to privacy.