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The term “urban data” is now stricken from the vocabulary of Toronto’s smart-city project, but data in general remains a key sticking point for the controversial development proposed for the city’s waterfront.
Waterfront Toronto’s board of directors agreed Thursday to continue evaluating plans by Alphabet Inc. subsidiary Sidewalk Labs to develop part of Toronto’s eastern waterfront, albeit on a smaller scale that had been envisioned in June. Waterfront Toronto will make a final decision on the project by the end of March next year.
However, as part of the “realignment” between Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs that was revealed Thursday, the term “urban data” — which Ontario’s privacy commissioner said in September “reflects a marked departure from the scope of current federal and provincial privacy legislation” — has been completely forbidden for the project.
Also dropped is any expectation by Sidewalk Labs for an independent “Urban Data Trust,” which the company proposed to manage all the “urban data” that could be collected.
“Our objective is to require that the control and collection of data in the project will be democratically accountable,” said Stephen Diamond, the chair of Waterfront Toronto, during a Thursday press conference.
Replacing Sidewalk’s earlier proposals are expectations that existing terms and legalities would be applied to the project. Personal information is also to be stored and processed in Canada.
Toronto city councillor and Waterfront Toronto board member Joe Cressy told reporters that by abandoning the data trust, “it puts the responsibility where it ought to be, on governments to be in charge of smart city development.”
Diamond said the plan now is that data collected will flow to and be controlled by a government agency. There is also an amendment reaffirming that Sidewalk would comply with “all existing and future privacy legislation, regulations and policy frameworks.”
The deal outlined Thursday would also prevent Sidewalk Labs from pulling an end run on Waterfront Toronto, as it includes an agreement by Sidewalk Labs not to lobby governments about data governance and privacy issues tied to the project without the agency’s say-so.
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Waterfront Toronto is now working with governments to “set new appropriately high standards for privacy protection and other measures now contemplated” for the project, according to Diamond.
As well, Diamond said Waterfront Toronto would be entitled to a cut of revenue generated by intellectual property stemming from the project. Sidewalk has now also apparently agreed to provide a “global patent pledge” that would give Canadian firms the right to use the company’s Canadian and foreign digital innovation patents.
“Further, whether or not the MIDP is approved or implemented, Sidewalk Labs grants Waterfront an irrevocable, perpetual license to use the Site-Specific IP created through the process of developing the MIDP,” Waterfront Toronto added.
So far, Sidewalk Labs has been amenable to the proposals.
“We will live by any regulation that government imposes,” Sidewalk CEO Dan Doctoroff said an interview with the Financial Post. “We’ll lay out in there what we think will be the use cases for data that we expect in this place, and very few of them actually end up using lots of personally identifiable information. And if at the end of the day, Waterfront Toronto or government decides those aren’t appropriate, we’re prepared to take that risk.”