Alphabet: Toronto’s Smart City To Track Store Foot Traffic

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Toronto is giving Google’s parent company, Alphabet, the green light to create a smart city with its subsidiary Sidewalk Labs, Reuters reported Friday (Nov. 15).

Sidewalk was granted permission by Waterfront Toronto to develop 12 acres. Final project evaluation and public input is scheduled for March 2020. Building is anticipated to start soon after.

The project originally sparked controversy for several reasons, but namely, because Sidewalk wanted to put data-collecting sensors around the city. The data-collecting proposal was rejected. Further criticism from the government-mandated body developing the project prompted Sidewalk to release a 483-page document in response.

Waterfront Toronto gave tentative approval to the project following Sidewalk’s agreement to back off from certain aspects of the proposal, which had included storing collected data in an Urban Data Trust.

The project, near Toronto’s central business district, is slated to include heated roads and an underground delivery system, according to CityLab. It will also feature adaptive street design and responsive sounds to help blind people find their way around. A pay-as-you-throw autonomous garbage system is also in the plans, with bins equipped with volume sensors indicating when it should empty itself. It was also reported that infrared sensors will track foot traffic in stores.

Citizen opposition group Block Sidewalk said it wants the project to be canceled entirely and is against having a technology company involved in city governance.

Sidewalk said most of the proposed services have already been implemented in various cities around the world.

“Having worked with Sidewalk Labs to reach a realignment on important digital issues, we are eager to see how these discussions have been reflected,” said Kristina Verner, Waterfront’s vice president of Innovation, Sustainability and Prosperity, in an emailed statement to Reuters.

Sidewalk has said it will not sell data collected to third parties, nor use it for advertising purposes. Personal information will not be shared with third parties, including other Alphabet-owned companies.

In May, Portland, Oregon, rolled out a pilot project using mobile software from Sidewalk Labs to gain insight into how people commute through the city.


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