Portland Rolls Out Pilot With Sidewalk Labs

Portland Rolls Out Pilot With Sidewalk Labs

Aiming to gain insight into how people commute through the city, Portland has rolled out a pilot project to replicate data on their movements.

According to a report in GeekWire, the project relies on mobile software from Sidewalk Labs, the Google-owned startup. The Replica software will enable the city to get access to data that shows how people are moving around the city. The idea is to get regular information on commutes, including how ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft impact traffic and how many cyclists use the bike lanes in areas of high traffic.

“We’ll be looking to Replica to explore a number of questions about major issues in our region like equity, safety and congestion,” said Eliot Rose, technology strategist at Portland’s Metro. It is one of the three city agencies that are paying for the $457,000 project. TriMet and Portland’s Bureau of Transportation are also contributing to the software.

To gather the data, the Replica software uses mobile location data that shows how people are moving through the city. Sidewalk Labs said the data is derived from mobile app publishers, mobile location data aggregators and telecommunications companies. No sensors, beacons, cameras or Wi-Fi hotspots are used as part of the project.

Replica may include demographic information to assess how different transportation options impact low-income workers, which raises the concerns of privacy experts. A Portland Bureau of Transportation spokesperson told GeekWire that per the contract with Sidewalk Labs, no other entities other than Metro, PBoT or TriMet can access the Replica software or data. However, concerns abound about the collection and use of the data collection.

“If a city is going to use a system, it has a responsibility to have full transparency about where all of the data is coming from, how it is being deidentified and to what level, and if that data is reused again or stored by Replica or Sidewalk or passed to its parent company,” said Pam Dixon, executive director of World Privacy Forum. “There’s too much that we don’t know.”


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