A Smart City is a Brave City
Google’s urban experiment, Sidewalk Labs, is determined to harness user data to create “more sustainable and equitable cities”. But at a time where public skepticism over data collection is higher than ever, Google’s friendly, under-the-radar data collection is no longer exempt from scrutiny. Data scandals were relentless throughout 2018, and while this prompted a shift in public discourse, digital privacy rights remain murky. Most people are still unclear about how to opt out of sharing their data, or if this effort even protects them at all (spoiler alert: sometimes not).
The insights of 2018 have forced data-gathering organizations to re-assess their policies which, in the case of Sidewalk Labs, took a turn for the worse. Sidewalk Labs had vowed to protect the privacy of individuals though de-identified data collection, but a potential rupture to this promise sent former advisor Ann Cavoukian running. While Sidewalk Labs remains firm in their promise to de-identify personal data, they say that they can only encourage their third-party collectors to do the same. Cavoukian insists that third-party collectors must de-identify the data at source before handing it over to Sidewalk Labs. If not, the data is at risk for breach which not only compromises the security of individuals, but the company as well.
With the amount of influence this project has, both from its stakeholders, and its concept, the rules and standards that Sidewalk Labs declares set the precedent for smart cities to follow. While demanding third party de-identification may be a challenging move, it’s one that would reinstate the right to personal data safety and catalyze a shift towards a truly smart, brave, and equitable city.